One Madame. Two maids. One sublime crime!

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One Madame. Two maids. One sublime crime!

Fresno State’s University Theatre will kick off its rendition of “The Maids” by Jean Genet and directed by Ruth Griffin, professor of Theatre Arts, at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31.

The show runs through Nov. 8 (except Nov. 3) at the Woods Theatre in the Speech Arts building on campus. Show times are 8 p.m., with the Sunday, Nov. 2 show at 2 p.m..

This production by Griffin, who was behind popular shows such as “A Servant of Two Masters,” “Bronte” and “The Arabian Nights,” demonstrates her commitment to a kind of theatre where the elements of music, movement, light and space are equally important to the script.

Fresno State actresses Samantha Hyde, Reshma Meister and Kia Vassilades — all Theater Arts majors — take on the roles of Madame, Claire and Solange, respectively.

“Rarely in mid-century drama do roles such as these exist for women,” Griffin said. “With Genet, however, gender, as in any aspect of identity, is fluid. These roles have been cast with male actors in several productions to date.”

Genet, born in 1910, was a convicted petty thief and self-defined outcast. He was also a symbolist poet, novelist and playwright.

“At the heart of all Genet’s fiction and plays are people caught in a maze of mirrors,” Griffin said. “In this game of mirrors, each apparent reality is revealed as a dream, thus the characters in his plays have a vertiginous equilibrium.”

For The Maids, Genet was inspired by the case of sisters Christine and Léa Papin, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France in 1933.

“The fantasy of the game allows them to transform, oftentimes into the role of Madame, from their fixed station of servitude,” she said. “It also functions to deliver them into a trance state where the unspeakable will be accomplished.”

Griffin approaches the play as a melodrama and has underscored it with music to define situations and moods. This production features elegant haute couture, designed by Elizabeth Payne, along with an art nouveau bedroom, conceptualized by Noah Flood.

In 1947 Paris, the play’s premiere caused a riot, Griffin said.

“Many of the French intellectuals of the time felt this crime was the result of the inequity between the upper and lower classes,” she said. “Genet maintained that the sensationalism of this case was only what had planted the seed. He thought of The Maids as a kind of fairytale. Just remember, things are not what they seem.”

Tickets are $17 for adults; $15 for Fresno State faculty, staff, alumni and military; and $10 for students. Group rates are also available. Box office hours are noon-4 p.m. on weekdays and one hour before curtain.

For more information, contact the box office at 559.278.2216 or universitytheatre@csufresno.edu.

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