The director provided a tidy and challenging bill of fare; but she could have motivated more actions and used less clever staging ideas that required better furniture and props to bring off properly (although the unaccredited costumes weren't bad, and S. Ryan Schmidt's lights made the best of a bare-bones situation).
Too many Valley Girl cadences clanged amongst the casually matched acting trio. For example, Meghan Shea's "Kristin" made a pizzicato polka of her part (although she got much better at the end) while Allison Tartalia's "Miss Julie" lacked too many important strings on her emotional fiddle. On the other hand Verena Podack's "Jean" unfailingly lent a languid viola timbre to the proceedings despite being heavily burdened under a cross-dressed part. For the gimmick in this production was to change the sex of the antagonist without changing the script.
The play seemed uncannily modern in this reading, but not because of the sexual reversals (the part of the male servant Jean, who ruin's Miss Julie's reputation, was made into a lesbian servant; but as the play progressed, the constant reminder of "Ah, she's supposed to be a man!" kept coming back like a repressed burp). The play rather spotlighted again the vicissitudes of European travel, yearning for successful investments of capital, rise of the lower classes, and feckless descent of the Eurotrash that hasn't changed that much since Strindberg's day.
As in all cross-dressed plays, interesting points (but none of them amusing) could be made. But anyone who plays around with this play ought rather to invent a Mr. Julie (that is, reverse the heroine's sex) to fashion a tragedy comparable to Racine's Phèdre-another play whose author's closet has been peeked into. These plots revolve around the explosion of a ferociously repressed attraction to a wickedly handsome partner-more common among the men who suffer death in Venice than the randy women from more northern countries.
In other words, Miss Julie could easily have had a youthful fling with any chambermaid about, and probably did, given her confused upbringing; and who would notice? But with a male servant, reputations would be ruined. Or as Freud (never) put it: "Sometimes a cigar is a penis!"
(Despite these misgivings, such experimentation should be encouraged when it's serious because it cannot fail at least to enlighten and enrich people's self-knowledge, which is the main purpose of drama.)
Ms. Podack's "Jean" was all business and proper sham throughout. But Ms. Tartalia, who had the face and petulance of Miss Julie, seemed to lack her character's deep confusion.
At play's end, Miss Julie prepares to flee her cooped up, silly life. In order to fulfill the author's heavy symbolism, Ms. Tartalia dragged out an honest-to-God (and most impressive!) bird cage, supposedly housing the green finch that symbolized the only living thing she ever loved. As Miss Julie let her perfidious servant slay the bird, it became painfully obvious that there was neither a finch nor a slaughter nor a tragedy. There wasn't even a bottom on the cage.
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Copyright 1998 Marshall Yaeger