Miss Julie by August Strindberg. Adapted by Craig Lucas, from a translation by Anders Cato.
Dutchman by LeRoi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka.
Both directed by Michèle Lonsdale Smith. A Lyric Stage Project production. At the Beaumont Playhouse on Friday, May 11. Continues until May 19
Sex, power, race, and class: it's a busy night in this double bill of Miss Julie and Dutchman.
I've always found August Strindberg's 1888 Miss Julie turgid and almost unbearably misogynist. Not so in this Lyric Stage Project mounting of Craig Lucas's 2005 adaptation.
Strindberg had a hate-on for feminists. His title character's wealthy mother raised her daughter to expect a place in life equal to that of men of her class, but that, according to the playwright, is an abomination. He tells us that the crops failed on the estate when Mom was in charge, and her daughter lives in a hell of sexual confusion. His Julie refuses to be a servant to any man yet feels a suicidal longing for masochistic subjugation.
Fortunately, the free-flowing language in Lucas's script allows us to see the play's characters as individuals rather than as mere representatives of positions in an antique and offensive political argument.
On Midsummer Eve, Julie is slumming it below stairs, flirting with her father's handsome and ambitious manservant, Jean. They fuck and Julie becomes completely unhinged.
This production gets a lot better after the sex. Eliza Norbury's Julie is notable for its frailty, which is both the greatest strength and greatest weakness of the portrait. Miss Julie is about a compulsive, sadomasochistic relationship, and in the beginning, Julie is on top. From Norbury's first entrance, the character is too fluttery and demented to make her dominance work. When the character starts to fall apart, though, these same qualities make for an effectively sickening descent into debasement.
Ben Ayres has the looks to play Jean and he's an accomplished actor. The character is a sadist, however. Ayres doesn't find that edge, and its absence contributes to the hollowness of the precoital humping and heavy breathing.
Lori Triolo is a knockout as Kristine, Jean's fiancée and the household's cook. She's as solid as a cast-iron stove and just as full of fire.
LeRoi Jones's Dutchman, the second and shorter piece on this double bill, is also about power imbalances that play out through sex. In this 1964 work, the secondary filter is race rather than class. Clay, a young black guy, is selected for humiliation by a sexually predatory and politically provocative white woman named Lula on a New York subway train. Lula tells Clay that he's a wannabe white guy. In an operatic rant, he responds that the only sane response to white America is murder.
As Clay, Matt Ward starts off as a geek and transforms into a male Fury. Despite an inconsistent New York accent, Anna Williams is also compelling as Lula.
The choice of material and the quality of the interpretation are both admirable in Lyric Stage Project's inaugural presentation.