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Fine Performances in Bankside Repertory's Production of 'Miss Julie": Theater Review

Fine Performances in Bankside Repertory's Production of 'Miss Julie": Theater Review

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Story: It’s Midsummer’s Eve and Miss Julie is drawn to the festive celebration of the peasants at her father’s manor house. Roles are clearly defined for the ruling and subordinate classes in Sweden in 1888, and Julie’s father, the Count, oversees a vast estate as well as the many servants who tend it for him.

That includes his valet Jean and Jean’s fiancée, Kristine, who cooks for the Count and tends the manor’s large kitchen. Miss Julie is attracted to Jean, who is older than her and had done quite a bit of traveling in his time before settling into his current position. Jean is literate and well-mannered and enjoys conversing with the beautiful but socially naïve Julie, who was raised by her late mother to believe that she should strive to be equal to any man and has recently ended a relationship with another aristocrat.

On this evening Miss Julie displays a wide array of emotions in her pas de deux with Jean, alternately ordering him around and begging him to love her, physically as well as emotionally. Their actions become more brazen after Kristine leaves the kitchen, and Jean proposes that he and Julie run off together to Switzerland, where he hopes to own and operate a hotel.

They’ll need money to do that, of course, as Julie points out with clear practicality. As they consider their options, Jean becomes more pessimistic about their possibilities and is further threatened by Kristine’s stern response to this sudden turn of events when she learns about it. Can Julie and Jean truly escape the roles established for them by society and centuries of ‘propriety’?

Highlights: Bankside Repertory Company concludes its second season with convincing performances by its trio of major players in a modern adaptation of August Strindberg’s 19th century naturalistic drama.

Other Info: In 2015 the founding members of Bankside Repertory Theatre Company established residence at the Jacoby Arts Center in Alton as a professional, Equity theater. The troupe’s second season closed last weekend with a 21st century adaptation by playwright Craig Lucas of Strindberg’s landmark drama, Miss Julie.

Congratulations are in order for the fledgling organization, which adds another star to the growing firmament of theater companies throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. Its regular ensemble includes Geoff Callaway, Sue Ellen Coughtry, Caleb King, John O’Hagan and Chrissy Calkins Steele.

As for the production of Miss Julie itself, there were several positives that offset the problematic elements of the Lucas translation. Jane Martin’s set design, e.g., was an effective representation of a large and well-stocked kitchen, where most of the action in the drama takes place. It included a door at stage right and some windows in the rear, crucial for revealing the play’s stunning climax.

Rick Vaughn’s lighting was simple but satisfactory, while Allison Foreman’s costumes added a nice touch with the servants’ uniforms and the handsome finery of Miss Julie. Steele’s choreography was limited to a few pleasing scenes involving the servant ensemble (Hannah Coughtry-Trapp, Cole Johnson, Nigel Knutzen, Sara Stephenson and Nick Trapp) dancing to a delightful selection of Swedish folk tunes played by music director and violinist Laura Garritson Parker.

Leerin Campbell convincingly conveyed the conflicting emotions that dominate Miss Julie’s personality, wavering between a belligerent affirmation of her high place in society with Miss Julie’s desperate need to secure Jean’s love. She did a fine job delineating how Miss Julie alternately welcomes and rejects Jean’s overtures, revealing the character’s uncertainty in how to accommodate her mother’s training to stand on equal footing with a man, albeit a servant.

Jason Contini was more effective at showing Jean’s cruder and baser side than his aspirations to control his own destiny, although he nicely depicted the servant’s respect for his master and employer with a nod of admiration about what the Count has accomplished, and a simple acknowledgement of the importance of keeping the Count’s boots polished at his command.

In the relatively minor role of Kristine, Andrea Beth Craig shined showing the servant’s simple adherence to her religion and to her established place in society as well as her disdain for the impulsive desires between Jean and Julie.

Director Sue Ellen Coughtry made good use of the performance area beyond the stage for the Midsummer Eve’s festivities by the servants, while also moving Campbell and Contini around the kitchen area. The two primary players worked well off each other in both tempestuous and sensual scenes, although the first act too often seemed inconsistent in its pacing, seeming to lurch awkwardly forward at times from one conversation to the next.

A major problem with the Lucas interpretation is the annoying use of modern colloquial language, even while the setting remains in 19th century Sweden. The course dialogue doesn’t mesh with its surroundings and dilutes the impact of Strindberg’s philosophy, even if it sounds more ‘naturalistic.’

It’s always good to have the opportunity to see a classic work performed, regardless of interpretation. In the case of Miss Julie, it was just as rewarding seeing the efforts of a new company welcomed by an appreciative audience.

Play: Miss Julie

Company: Bankside Repertory Theatre Company

Venue: Jacoby Arts Center, 627 East Broadway, Alton

Dates: Run concluded

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of PhotogBuddies

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