Reconceiving Strindberg

"I find 'the joy of life' in life's cruel and mighty conflicts," wrote August Strindberg in his preface to Miss Julie. Although published in 1888, the play was banned in many countries for its rejection of melodrama and its adoption of realism, and the frank discussion of sex and servitude broke class and gender-role taboos. In the play, the title character is the playful and manipulative mistress of the house, who corners one of her father's servants, Jean. What begins as simple flirtation soon unravels into a chaotic mess that explores the dynamics of their relationship to each other and to their families.

Lord Cromer, who banned the play from performance in England, wrote, "There is a sordid and disgusting atmosphere, which makes the immorality of the play glaring and crude." Of course, Miss Julie went on to become an essential part of the modern theatrical canon, the bridge between the mystical, romantic Symbolists of the late 19th century and the kitchen-sink realism that emerged at the beginning of the 20th.

With its production of Julie, the Theatre-Arts Connection has adapted the play for its art installation-cum-performance. The group has taken the realistic dialogue and abstracted it, using a surrealistic tone and design with a text freely adapted from the original. Spliced in are excerpts from works by Sophocles and Shakespeare, along with a tip of the hat to Charles Mee, the master of intertextual weaving. Alongside physical and vocal manifestations of the characters' subconscious drives, the play becomes overwrought, and what could have been an insightful and inventive production gets dragged down by its own overzealousness.

Despite the play's renown for displaying the beginnings of theatrical realism, Strindberg gives the audience numerous clues that the action takes place in a mystical void, outside of time and space. Its setting on Midsummer's Eve, an all-night festival celebrating the summer solstice, involves Dionysian abandon in dancing and drinking.

The master of the house is nowhere to be found, although reminders of his presence, in the form of his newly shined boots and the bell that summons the servants, constantly hang over the characters. The installation design by Liat Hazan and David I.L. Poole and lighting by James Bedell do a marvelous job of setting the tone. White scrims separate the audience and the actors as a dreamlike filter. The house is made of the same scrim, framed with a delicate wood. The scrims indicate the evanescence of the evening and the ease with which the house

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