June 15, 2012
By Mary L. Clark
Jean Genet's plays have long been university drama department icons of both production and analysis. Theatre History professors often site Genet as a leading figure in the avant-garde theatre, especially Theatre of the Absurd. His complex works influenced the lead dramatists of the day, including Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Alfred Jarry.
Genet's life of early abandonment, delinquency and deprivation completely absorbed and fueled his play's themes of ritual, identity, illusion and transformation. Born in Paris in 1910, he was left to his own devices and found himself in a series of institutions and prisons for thievery, homosexuality and prostitution. His famous quote is that "I decisively repudiated a world that had repudiated me."
Wandering around Europe for over ten years, he always felt a social outcast and always out of place. After yet another imprisonment, at age 33, Genet first began writing novels on what he knew best – his fellow outcasts and the mutual entrapment in society's and their own self-destructive circles.
Turning to playwriting, his first, Deathwatch, revolves around inmates who struggle for domination in a tiny prison cell. His next play, The Maids, is loosely based on France's Papin sisters who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933. It examines ritualization in the guise of two maids who role-play being their employer, Madame, or the servant whom she abuses. The play relies heavily on ceremony, blurring of identities and sadomasochism to perpetuate the maid's loathing of both Madame and themselves.
Fresh out of SMU's Meadow School of the Arts, a group of actors, directors and designers have formed a new theatre company, Best Revenge Productions. While I don't know this for a fact, I hope they took their name from Stephen Fife's witty personal accounts of working in our regional theatre system, "Best Revenge – How The Theatre Saved My Life ... And Has Been Killing Me Ever Since." ...