MISS JULIE: FREEDOM SUMMER
A few days before a black man is to be inaugurated President of the United States, it’s important to be reminded that not very long ago a black man could be lynched in some of those same United States for just looking the wrong way at a white woman—much less having sex with her.
In 1888 August Strindberg wrote Miss Julie, a play revolutionary for its graphic depiction of a momentary affair between an aristocratic young woman and her servant. Los Angeles theatre director Stephen Sachs has re-imagined Strindberg’s play, shifting the emphasis from class to race and moving it from 19th century Sweden to Greenwood, Mississippi in the “freedom summer” of1964 during the ferment of the civil rights revolution.
Against a background of black protests, a voter registration drive, and the murder of three civil rights activists, Sachs makes Miss Julie the daughter of the local judge. John, her daddy’s chauffeur and manservant, is black. So is John’s girlfriend, the house servant Christine. The stakes for these three characters couldn’t be any higher.
Sachs directs a very fine Canadian cast in this powerful Playhouse production. Caroline Cave, so good in The Syringa Tree, turns in another dynamite performance as the hot-blooded, volatile Julie, who might be Blanche Dubois as a young woman. A whirling dervish in a silky red dress, she’s sexy and nutty, scary and pathetic—a great role that could easily boil over into grotesque melodrama. Cave keeps her compelling and real.
Kevin Hanchard’s John is her match—himself churning with confusion and frustration: hating his situation, inspired by the possibilities of freedom, terrified of what he might have unleashed. Raven Dauda’s stern, church-going Christine provides the perfect ballast, a voice of reason in a situation where reason is no longer possible nor probably even desirable.
The play runs an intense, intermissionless 90 minutes on Pam Johnson’s evocative, if sprawling, kitchen set. The plot twists and character reversals get a little bizarre towards the end--you can see how both Tennessee Williams and the Edward Albee of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are Strindberg’s theatrical descendants. But it’s easy to forgive these excesses in the face of such a powerful, resonant story.