The FSU/Asolo Conservatory tackles the strife of Strindberg with Miss Julie.
By Kay Kipling
Fans of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s theater seasons know that the process of putting them together involves allowing the MFA students to learn to play in differing styles, from classical to contemporary to experimental. The current production of August Strindberg’s naturalistic play, Miss Julie, is one more example of that variety at work, and it must have posed an interesting challenge for its three main actors.
Strindberg frequently dealt with the battle of the sexes (and not in that amusing-it-all-turns-out-OK-in-the-end way, either). In Miss Julie he’s also dealing with issues of class, at least as those issues existed in 1890s Sweden.
Sarah Gavitt and Peter Mendez in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory production of Miss Julie.
The plays opens with Jean (Peter Mendez), valet to a count, describing to the household’s cook and his apparent fiancée, Christine (Nissa Perrott), how their mistress, Miss Julie (Sarah Gavitt) is behaving on this midsummer eve’s night—wildly dancing with the servants and forgetting the difference in their stations in a way that will make her the target of criticism and disrespect. Jean’s motivations are certainly mixed: In one way, he cannot escape the soul of a servant despite being more worldly and more traveled than most; in another, he may actually feel something for Miss Julie; in yet another, he’d like to take advantage of the situation with her to further his own lot in life.
That looks like it could happen as the evening progresses and Miss Julie becomes ever more flirtatious and risk-taking. The product of an anguished marriage, she feels hate for men while at the same time drawn to Jean, and as she tells him her dream of being trapped high on a pillar, from which she longs to fall/escape, we know where things are headed for this mismatched couple in the midst of midsummer madness.
But what happens after Julie and Jean have satisfied their lust/love? Things cannot go back to the way they were. Will they fly together before her father, the count, returns home? Or will they crush each other in an ever escalating, ever vacillating struggle for the upper hand that takes place in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the count’s kitchen? Who will, in the end, be the stronger character?
This is not easy stuff to bring to a modern-day stage (any more than it must have been more than 100 years ago). Some of the psychological baggage the characters carry might seem trite or outdated now, but there’s no denying the tension in the air, a tension that still exists between male and female. And in general the Conservatory actors do a creditable job of portraying these people from a very different time and place, headed for a tragically inevitable ending.
Miss Julie (running 90 minutes with no intermission) continues on the Cook Theatre stage through March 22; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit asolo.org.