November 4, 2014

Isabel Sanchez takes an odd approach to housecleaning. In The Maids’ The Maids, at Abrons Arts Center, she bops onto the stage in a frilly apron, feather dusters and dishwashing gloves at the ready. Then she starts spilling corn chips and cheese curls all over the floor. She puts a raw egg between her teeth and crunches it. Shell and yolk and albumen drip from her lips. Engaging and frustrating, imaginative and jumbled, original and derivative, this piece by the experimental company Sister Sylvester uses both professional housekeepers and professional actors (Ms. Sanchez among them) to create a contemporary response to Jean Genet’s The Maids, from 1947. An absurdist tragedy based on a real crime case, that play was recently seen at the Lincoln Center Festival, with Isabelle Huppert and Cate Blanchett as the murderous help. If the Lincoln Center production was about the relationship between glamour and grotesquerie, Sister Sylvester’s version is mostly about class. In a compelling passage, Laudiceia Calixto, a Brazilian maid who at first speaks through an interpreter, reveals what inspired the director, Kathryn Hamilton, to take on the project. Ms. Hamilton had struck up a friendship with Ms. Calixto while staying in a friend’s place. One day Ms. Calixto invited her into the luxurious apartment next door, suggesting “that they sit on the sofa and pretend that they lived there and were rich.