Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert debut in 'The Maids' in Australia

It's a pairing that theater producers in New York and London would no doubt go ga-ga over. But for the time being at least, only audiences in Sydney, Australia, can catch Cate Blanchett and French film icon Isabelle Huppert performing a frightening folie à deux in a new production of Jean Genet's "The Maids."

Blanchett and Huppert play the homicidal houseservants Claire and Solange, respectively, in the Sydney Theatre Company's English-language production that is directed by Benedict Andrews. Rounding out the three-person cast is Elizabeth Debicki as their wealthy mistress. The 22-year-old Debicki recently appeared in the movie "The Great Gatsby" in the role of Jordan Baker.

"The Maids," first performed in 1947, was loosely inspired by France's notorious Papin affair, in which two maids -- who were sisters and rumored to be incestuous lesbian lovers -- killed their employer's wife and daughter in 1933.

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The play follows Claire and Solange as they play-act the roles of mistress and servant in a sadistic game of domination and subjugation. Andrews' production places the story in a kind of timeless period and features video projections above the stage, according to reports.

Reviews of the new production, which opened Saturday, have so far been favorable. The Sydney Morning Herald praised Blanchett and Debicki, the latter of whom "carves up the stage in a performance encapsulating the callousness of the haves toward the have-nots." The live-video component to the staging "proves more decorative than illuminating."

The Australian noted the two lead actresses are "celebrities as well as great actors and this layer -- just watching them strut their stuff -- becomes part of the fabric of the production."

London's The Guardian singled out Blanchett for her "picking up every nuance." Overall, the production has "evidence of brilliance in every moment.... It's a rich theatrical experience, if not fully realised."

The Sydney Theatre Company has brought some of its productions to international audiences, including "Uncle Vanya" last year for the Lincoln Center Festival in New York. The company hasn't made an announcement whether "The Maids" -- which runs through July 20 in Sydney -- will travel abroad.

A bit of French theater trivia, for those who are interested: Huppert's daughter, actress Lolita Chammah, played one of the murderous servants in a 2011 production of "The Maids" in Paris. 

[Updated]: The Sydney Theatre Company has posted a trailer of "The Maids," with scenes from the production.


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