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A CurtainUp Review

Diary of a Chambermaid
By Jenny Sandman

You can sleep with Celestine if you want to. All I care about is that it doesn't cost me any money. ---Madame
The French maid has been cemented in the collective erotic imagination for so long that it's hard to imagine a time when a French maid costume wasn't a sexual fantasy. Mirbeau's Diary of a Chambermaid (Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre), written in 1900, caused a huge scandal and was banned in the US in 1901. Naturally it became an instant classic, and is largely responsible for the image of the sexpot French maid.

Celestine is a young chambermaid from Paris, working in the French countryside. She must fend off the advances of the master while administering to his bitter, carping wife. Through monologues and flashbacks we are ushered into her diary and into both her daily life and her former adventures. She receives an offer of marriage from a fellow servant, and it turns out to be a very lucrative offer. But although she's sexually attracted to him, she's also afraid of him as there are rumors of his involvement with the rape and murder of a little girl. Her dilemma is whether she can overlook the rumors and marry him or be trapped as a maid the rest of her life.

Celestine's pragmatic attitude toward sex, born of a poverty-stricken life, caused the book's censorship. Her stories of lesbianism, forced prostitution and sleeping with her masters for a little extra food or mone, were actually a scathing indictment of nineteenth-century French society. The moneyed classes were notorious for their maltreatment oftheir servants which in Diary of a Chambermaid is illustrated by the way the penny-pinching and cruel rich underpay the servants and feed them scraps, and count the silver and mark the liquor bottles every night.

The new company Dramahaus New York, which describes itself as a "global home for directors, " is offering a world premiere adaptation of the novel. Their production is charming but a little long. The pace is slow at times and some scenes do nothing to further the story. Otherwise, the play is brilliantly directed by Romanian director Giurgea, who studied with Robert Wilson and Giorgio Strehler. Giurgea uses the long narrow Walkerspace to full advantage, while set designer Jeffrey Eisenmann uses hay bales with surprising originality.

The cast is both talented and energetic, with Lael Logan as Celestine is the standout performer. She is somehow both winsome and scheming as, ultimately, her sexual exploitation doesn't seem to trouble her. As the curtain call so comically illustrates, it's all simply part of the job.

Though America prides itself on being a classless society, parallels can be drawn to modern life. The increasing gap between rich and poor, the increase in so-called service industries, the success of books like The Nanny Diaries-- all mirror the class structure of Diary of a Chambermaid. It's a thought-provoking and often funny play. The excellent cast and director make for a fine premiere for Dramahaus New York.

Based on the novel by Octave Mirbeau
Directed and adapted by Adrian Giurgea
With Atosa Babaoff, Brooke Delaney, Antonia Fairchild, Ryan Farley, Jeff Galfer, Lael Logan, Patrick McNulty, Christopher Oden, Carl Riehl, Allison Schubert and Finnerty Steeves
Lighting Design by G. Benjamin Swope
Set Design by Jeffrey Eisenmann
Costume Design by Vanessa Leuck
Running time: Two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street; 212-868-4444
July 23rd through August 14th; Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm. All tickets $15
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on August 4th performance
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