In a recent London production of The Maids, stars from Orange Is the New Black and Downton Abbey appeared in the play about the sister maids who murder their mistress. On a set resembling a giant four-poster bed strewn with pink rose petals, the sisters acted out BDSM power play between two women who are both trapped in and transgressing their station. Their mistress wore Alexander McQueen gowns.

That same show from Portland's newest theater company, Public Citizen Theatre, drags on in a way that anyone acquainted with playwright Jean Genet's inflammatory works would hardly believe. Watching it opening weekend, I felt like the freaky maids' mistress, woefully upset over the accumulation of small disappointments.

On a triangular stage in Southeast's warehouse-turned-theater, the mistress complains: "too many flowers, it's death." But the meager flower arrangements are out-of-season plastic blossoms. The wardrobe looks like a tacky mix of items that were never in style and pulled from clashing decades. That impossibly narrow dressing room chair is cute, but enough of these low-budget attempts at bougie dressing-room realism! If I wouldn't buy it on sale, I don't buy it onstage.

The stage is restrictive on purpose, but it backfires. Audiences spend the intermission-free show facing a corner of the mistress' private room. While the directors' intent was to mimic the characters' claustrophobia, instead, all sound gets sucked up into the ceiling or muffled by the air conditioner. But don't dare turn the AC off. Instead, the actors should project and annunciate, and stop shouting.

It is true that the cast had technical control of the demanding language in Martin Crimp's translation—perhaps too much control. The line "My jet of spit is my spray of diamonds" deserves some slobber. It's clear early on that this show was never going to go there.

After the play, my date and I searched online for the film Murderous Maids, based on the same scintillating true story of the Papin sisters. The sex and scorn in that three-minute trailer raised my pulse higher than Public Citizen's production ever managed.

In his director's note, Aaron Filyaw promises this production will be funny. One of the maids (it's so hard to keep them straight) says to the other, "We should be laughing or our tragedy will blow us out the window." A sense of humor can help one through many trying circumstances, such as servitude, strangling or seeing this play. Is it hateful to be so harsh, or harsh to be so hateful? The audience can be a cruel mistress, but as the play points out, she is also "the excuse for all your ridiculous play-acting."

See it: The Maids is at Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., 503-235-0635. 8 pm Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, through Aug. 21. $15-$25.