Director doesn’t grasp Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’

August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” is about the collision of two different social worlds, but in the College of Southern Nevada’s production, the explosion is mute.

This 1888 drama remains one of the most sensual major scripts ever written. Its simple premise pits our title character, the 25-year-old, spoiled, passionate and reckless daughter of a wealthy land owner, against her father’s 30-year-old, streetwise and social-climbing valet, Jean. Their mutual attraction during a holiday celebration results in tragedy — but not before we get some brilliant observations about class envy and self-hatred.

The play often is credited with the birth of “natural realism,” and I suspect director T.J. Larsen misunderstands the term. To simplify, Strindberg was trying to get away from the melodramatic approach to drama to uncover more easily recognizable psychological truths.

What I get from Larsen’s production is that naturalism means reciting dialogue that’s as monotonous and inexpressive as what we often hear in life. Watching this play is like watching a month’s worth of acting exercises — you know, the kind that encourage budding Brandos to forget about the falsity of the stage and be “real.” But the droning on of these actors is a reminder of why all stage work needs some degree of heightened realism. Real life can be pretty boring.

Larsen’s failure to fully define these characters adds to the tortured pace. He moves the action from 1880s Sweden to 1940s New England, but we never get a strong sense of place, or of class distinction.

Stacia Zinkevich’s Julie should make us feel on her first entrance that she’s capable of consuming a man with a glance. But for a woman who talks so much about passion, she’s surprisingly remote.

John Beane is so cerebral and actor-y as the valet that we never get the sense that he’s working class; that he’s “beneath” Miss Julie’s station.

Larsen has the head of the college’s dance program, Kelly Roth, choreograph (and help perform) several segments of extended movement by a partying crowd, but there’s no visceral relationship between the dancing — which feels overly planned and sexless — and the events of the play.

I’d hate to think someone would view this production and come away thinking he’s seen Strindberg. His work can feel startlingly modern and alive in the hands of a director who understands the playwright’s emotional temperatures.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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