Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Miss Julie": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

They stalk each other around the large rectangular kitchen table with the Count's unpolished boots standing in the middle, the tall man wearing the livery of a foot servant and the young woman resplendent in a lime-green ball gown. They speak little, but the sexual tension conveyed in this one scene, written in 1888 by the Swedish master August Strindberg, was for many years considered too hot for decent theater. Aurora Theater Company's remounting of "Miss Julie," directed by Mark Jackson in one act of ninety minutes with no intermission, simply crackles with energy, realism and wit.

Jean (Mark Anderson Phillips), the valet of the unseen Count, is engaged to Kitchen servant Christine (Beth Deitchman), but he is not-too-secretly angling for the Count's daughter, the gorgeous and irrepressible Julie (a remarkable role for Lauren Grace). But 'love' is a charged word for Jean, as he understands that his status as a servant leaves him an impossible distance from a relationship with an aristocrat like Miss Julie. "We (servants must) treat love as a game, when we have time off from work," Jean says. "I could love you, but you could never love me." Phillips imbues Jean with class anger and a bit of disdain for all women, not a surprising theme to spring from the pen of a noted misogynist like August Strindberg.

But where Jean's anger is readily understandable, Miss Julie's attraction to the valet is the engine that drives this vehicle. She sees life as basically impossible: "Everything is a scum that's floating -- floating across the water until it sinks." She is hoping Jean can give her something to live for, but his heart is cold. Christine, whose sensible, Christian nature seems no match for Miss Julie's worldliness, is in the end Strindberg's moral center -- it seems inevitable that Jean will end up with Christine and not Miss Julie, but the finale is shocking nonetheless.

Special note must be given to the fascinating sound pastiche by David A. Graves, which begins with country banjos and morphs into a John Cage-like series of sustained horns and strings. Scene after scene, the music is a welcome touch, especially with so many pregnant silences accompanying the steamy looks.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Miss Julie' Four Stars. It couldn't be less -- in many ways, this is a perfect night of theater. The writing, acting and directing are superb and the compact Aurora is an excellent venue for such an intimate story. Let us not forget to mention wonderful period costumes by Jessica Peter and evocative lighting by Heather Basarab. And Lauren Grace is a treasure. Don't miss 'Miss Julie' -- you will be touched by the simplicity of this timeless story.

'Miss Julie'
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison St., Berkeley
Through May 10

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