THAD Department presents “The Maids”


Brynn Artley

Left to right: Ella Dierberger (Claire) glowers while Stephanie Trypuc (Solange) sulks during a scene rehearsal. The two play the titular characters in Winona State’s fall performance of “The Maids.”

Brynn Artley, Features Reporter

French drama sets the stage for the 2017-2018 season

The Winona State University Theatre Department’s production of the “The Maids” opens this Friday, Sept. 15, ushering viewers into the strange, tragic world of two sisters who fantasize about the murder of their employer through role-play.

Originally written in 1947 by Jean Genet, “The Maids” explores themes of social class and identity through the style of classic absurdist theatre.

The original version is written in French, though this production uses the Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton translation, which appeared on Broadway in 2014, starring Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert as the titular characters. 

“This translation is different in a lot of ways from the original,” director and associate professor Jim Williams said.  “The original is sort of like the tame version…this is a little more violent.” 

Correspondingly, the production comes with a mature audience advisory.

“It’s not for everybody. There’s very strong language and adult situations,” Williams said.

The production stars junior theatre and public relations major Stephanie Trypuc as the elder sister, Solange, and senior theatre major Ella Dierberger as Claire, the younger sister. 

The cast received their materials three months prior to starting production, just before they left for summer break. 

“I did a lot of extensive research on the story of the two maids that this story is based off of; the Papin sisters,” Dierberger said.  “I watched a lot of movies and documentaries and did a lot of reading up on them.”

In addition to playing Claire, Dierberger is the show’s producer as part of her senior capstone project. Tasked with finding lighting and set designers, as well as ensuring the rehearsal process runs smoothly, Dierberger is responsible for managing the framework of the show.

“I’m working with a bunch of people. It’s got to be a collaboration, because not everybody can be there on every day,” Dierberger said. 

Dierberger is also given the challenge of crafting a production with an unusual seating arrangement. The production is “in the round,” where the audience surrounds the stage area. 

“It’s just a lot of angles, trying to make sure the audience isn’t lit but all areas of the stage are,” Dierberger said.

Another unique facet of the play is the small

cast size. Only three roles are present in the production. 

“It’s a very intimate, different setting,” Trypuc explained. 

This was a highlight for stage manager Becca Borchardt, a senior theatre and business administration major, who noted, “I think it’s a good show to kind of dip your toe in the water stage-management wise.”

While producing brings its challenges, acting is also demanding due to the mature content of the play, according to Trypuc.

“It’s a really dark show.  A lot of foul language.  I think the content itself was the hardest to overcome,” Trypuc said.  “There was a lot of preparation going into the role, which was very helpful.” 

In addition to Dierberger and Trypuc, assistant professor Heather Williams-Williams joined the cast as Mistress, the sisters’ employer. 

“The rehearsal space is definitely different than the classroom space,” Williams-Williams said.  “It’s a nice juxtaposition for me. It’s nice to kind of come into a rehearsal process and to be [on an] equal playing space with them, part of an ensemble rather than a student-teacher relationship. That’s always a dynamic that’s interesting to explore.” 

Getting to act alongside her professor was a plus for Dierberger, as was the small cast size. 

“It’s been really cool to work basically one-on-one with Jim, our director,” she said. “I feel like we’re getting a lot of acting notes which you wouldn’t necessarily get all the time in a larger production. So it’s helping me expand my vocal range and my physical range.”

The production stretched everyone involved. While the actresses wrestled with their parts, Williams also faced an issue. 

“This is a play about women and I’m the only guy here and I’m directing it,” he explained.  “We said at the beginning, ‘You need to tell me what you’re comfortable with, what you’re not comfortable [with], because there’s a lot of physical action that goes on in this.’” 

Despite the challenges, Williams praised his cast’s work.

“It’s been kind of fun to see how far they’ve grown into the parts,” he said.

The cast and crew said viewers can take away many things from the production. The story meant something different for everyone. 

Williams noted that it explores issues of identity and class differences and Dierberger added that it also explores “how your environment can affect your mental state.”

Trypuc said the story gains its power from reality.

“I think it shows a very devastating perspective of a life that none of us would ever fathom of living. It comes from all those true stories,” Trypuc said.

“The Maids” runs Sept. 15-16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center’s Dorothy B. Magnus Black Box Theatre. Admission is free for students and $5 for non-students.