There is nothing like a play that beats the audience over the head with issues of social class structure and gender roles to get Women’s History Month under way. “Miss Julie,” written by August Strindberg and directed by Matt Foyer, is a story set in the late 1800s about the doomed liaison between a young aristocrat, Julie, and her father’s valet, Jean.
The story of a haughty female’s fall from grace resulting from a rendezvous with an ambitious, but still working-class, valet is brimming with misogyny and contradictions.
Julie, a daughter of a commoner and a count, salaciously pursues the humble Jean. She uses the occasion of the town’s festival, Midsummer Eve, as an excuse to cavort with the commoners and insists to be treated as an equal. However, Julie has no qualms about giving orders when Jean tries to resist her feminine wiles.
Jean at first appears noble and righteous as he tries to remind Julie of the class difference between them. The audience almost feels for him as Julie throws her weight around, but as soon as they consummate their relationship, Jean takes all the power that she had over him, and then some. Jean turns out to be callous as he takes advantage of Julie, using her moment of weakness against her.
In a discussion that followed the March 9 show, Foyer said that he chose to produce “Miss Julie” because time constraints called for a small cast. A cast of three main characters and four peasants may be small, but the presence of the count, even though he is never on stage, is strongly felt throughout the play
The intimate venue of the Studio Theatre of the GCC Auditorium makes the audience feel like a fly on the wall as the events unfold. The only disadvantage to a small venue is that when a member of the audience gets up to leave in the middle of the play everyone is distracted.
Mary Sullivan gives Julie the breathless energy the character calls for in the beginning, which turns to pathos when her character is diminished by circumstances in the end.
R.B. Dilanchian shows his versatility as he turns from a humble servant to a cunning lover. He successfully jumps in and out of the Jekyll and Hyde character: one minute inciting pity as Julie pushes him around, then envoking contempt as the balance of power reverses.
The only person unscathed is Christine, played by Jordan Blaquera, who knows her place in the world. By playing by the rules, she retains a degree of freedom.
“Miss Julie” is full of contradictions. Julie says that she was raised as if she were a boy and made to work among the helpers, yet she knows her power over them. Her tomboy upbringing is contrary to Jean’s vision of ribbons and stockings that he said she wore as a girl. Another is the issue of class structure.
Strindberg is unclear in his message of social mobility — the only way up is to stay where you are. Jean may have enough ambition and potential to chase after his dreams, yet in the end he stays where he is and acknowledges that it is the lackey in him that kicks him back down to earth when he dares to dream.