Join me, friends, in snapping off a salute to the bravest little theater in town, Naked Stage. They’ve just opened August Strindberg’s classic Miss Julie, first performed in 1906, that has all the psychoses of the morning after banter between Doctors Ruth and Phil should they have stopped talking long enough to get it on, intimately.
On an inspired set (spot the staring face on the bench end) by Antonio Amadeo, a kitchen in the manor of the unnamed, unseen Swedish Count, his daughter, Julie, plays power pussy with the Count’s manservant, Jean, a 30-year-old braggadocian who whimpers at the sound of the Count’s bell.
Katherine Amadeo as Miss Julie brings a raging conviction to the 25-year-old woman dissatisfied with her boring life; she broke off her engagement because her fiancé refused to be trained with a horse whip. She lords it over the palace staff by attending their Midsummer Eve dance and insists that Jean, the brilliant Matthew (William Chizever) dance with her. He resists, knowing that mixing the classes is never a great idea. She persists, however, and guess what, we’re treated to the quickest bent over the kitchen table shag seen on stage this week. Guilt and recriminations on her part and greed of the conqueror on his. This can’t end well. And it doesn’t.
The strength of this piece lies in the acting. Amadeo brings wilfulness to a monstrous height, her downfall all the more harrowing. Chizever, his voice, his sophistication, his guile, brutality, his very self satisfaction and his fear are worth seeing over and over again.
Deborah L. Sherman plays, Christine, the cook, and unfortunately it’s a minor role, for Sherman is a fascinating actress and she makes the most of every moment as Jean’s fiancée.
So, why the bravery of Naked Stage? Miss Julie was written in 1888 and can get pretty turgid. There are a lot of "woe-is-me" moments in its non stop, one hour and forty minutes playing time, but the tales told of the lovers’ dreams of owning an hotel; a teenage Jean hiding in the bowels of the Count’s outhouse, staring up at Miss Julie; the brutality of a bird’s beheading; Miss Julie: “Oh, I’d love to see the whole of your sex swimming in a sea of blood...” and the offering of a straight razor, offset any slowing of the action.
One tiny question lingers, however: If these are Swedes in Sweden at the turn of the century, why the strong English accents? And I’m sure Englishmen don’t really make “pants” rhyme with “France.”
Margaret M. Ledford’s direction and Naked Stage’s production shoot the piece along so there’s never a need to check one’s watch. Naked Stage overcomes today’s “What me? See a classic? Nah.” So congratulations to them all. Bravery, indeed.
Excellent period costumes by Deborah L. Sherman, lighting by Margaret M. Ledford, sound by Mitch Furman. Dialect coach Kathryn Johnston.
Miss Julie plays through June 8 at the Pelican Theater, Barry University, 11300 NE Second Avenue, Miami. T: 866-811-4111 www.nakedstage.org