Best of Fall #3: Rising director Brendan Healy makes theatre exciting again with Jean Genet’s psychosexual thriller The Maids
Last year, Brendan Healy tossed a dead baby into Toronto’s sedate theatre world. The 36-year-old, a graduate of the National Theatre School and a recent resident of Soulpepper’s training academy, had been hired as artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times and charged with overhauling the sometimes provocative though more often mediocre company. For his first production, he chose Blasted, a polarizing drama by the British playwright Sarah Kane about a surreal civil war in England. The play requires its actors to simulate rape and mutilation and—in a particularly low moment—eating an infant’s corpse. It has been described as one of the most disgusting creations in theatrical history, and if it doesn’t get a director noticed, he’s doing something wrong.
Yet Healy moved beyond the merely sensational, found the play’s bloody, beaten heart and put on a spare, sad and (dare we say it) somehow relatable production—helped in great part by his casting of David Ferry and Michelle Monteith, two of the city’s most compelling actors. The show sold out and took home five Dora awards, including outstanding production and outstanding direction.
This fall, Healy offers his interpretation of Jean Genet’s The Maids, a 1947 play based on the gruesome real-life murder of a French mother and daughter by their servants. The maids—a pair of vaguely incestuous, totally twisted sisters—are trapped in a self-imposed role-playing game, in which they pretend to be Madame, their employer, and act out fantasies of killing her. As Healy sees it, it’s a study of an impossible situation: what happens when your identity is entirely controlled by the one who dominates you. He has brought in a powerhouse trio of Stratford-trained actors to embody that impossible situation: Ron Kennell (in drag, as Genet originally intended the cast to be) and Diane D’Aquila are the sisters, Maria Ricossa their boss.
Theatre directors rarely get equal billing with actors, but Healy himself has become a draw. He has proven that a play doesn’t have to be a crowd-pleaser to please the crowds.
Sept. 17 to Oct. 9
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre