MY SISTER IN THIS HOUSE, Circle Theatre. The same 1933 murder of a Le Mans matron and her daughter by their two sister-servants inspired both Jean Genet’s gender-bending The Maids and Wendy Kesselman’s later naturalistic treatment. But where Genet delights in the twisted nightly rituals in which the maids transform themselves into their superiors, Kesselman conjures up a much more mundane preface to murder. Four years of indignities in a stifling provincial house–cramped quarters, meager pay, frosty silences–cause the sisters, who are bedeviled by incest, religious hysteria, and mental instability, to drift deeper into their own world. Finally a blown fuse and a burnt blouse trigger the slaughter.

Backed by Marc Stopeck’s class-conscious set, Alena Murguia’s staging conveys both the combustible claustrophobia and the dire ignorance that feed the sisters’ fears. As seething Christine, a frustrated nun who was abused by a real one, Meredith Templeton makes repression as real as the elder sister’s tight coif. Jennifer Fisk’s infantile Lea simpers with the docility of the dangerously dependent, and Michelle Mueller’s haughty, lonely Isabelle underlines the sad plight of this bored young lady. Franette Liebow plays the smothering Madame Danzard with the right petty mania, but at times her peevishness makes her more ridiculous than oppressive–by the final reckoning Madame Danzard must seem far more threatening.

–Lawrence Bommer