We are so fortunate to have the California State University, Long Beach, campus in our community. All of its disciplines receive high marks in state-wide collegiate ratings, and COTA (CSULB’s College of the Arts) is at the top of the CSU chart.
Whether in music, dance, the written word, the visual arts or live stage performances, we all benefit. Just minutes away from each of us, excellent work is available at affordable prices.
Take the theater department’s production of “Miss Julie,” for example. Students have the chance to experience the dark world of Swedish playwright August Strindberg while audiences can sit back and watch young performers attempt this well-known dramatic classic.
When it was written in 1888, “Miss Julie” shocked audiences across Europe by its naturalistic treatment of Scandinavian society. Along with Ibsen, Strindberg dared to explore the hierarchy of the class system, the power of the church, carnal lust, male superiority and the female response to it.
As with most classics, “Miss Julie” has been adapted many times over the past century, without diminishing the power of its core message. By simplifying its form, paring down excess verbiage, and cutting out references that are no longer relevant, Strindberg’s work is more accessible to contemporary audiences.
Just so, guest director Trevor Biship has chosen Craig Lucas’s stark, highly stylized adaptation of “Miss Julie” for the current CSULB production.
The time is still Midsummer Night in the late 1800s; the place is still the estate of some grand Swedish Count; and the battle of the sexes is still ferocious and deadly. And, as might be expected, the rigid class system makes the plot as tragic as ever.
Caught in the inescapable bonds of 19th century Swedish culture are Miss Julie (the beautiful, arrogant, headstrong daughter of some wealthy Count); Jean (a handsome, well-mannered, well-read servant to Julie’s father); and Kristine (Jean’s fiance, the servant who cooks and runs the Count’s kitchen).
It’s Midsummer Night and everyone everywhere is celebrating. Suddenly, out of the blue, the brazen Julie waltzes down into the kitchen (the servants’ domain) and demands that Jean dance with her. From the stylized approach of the opening scenes, the audience gets a taste of the raw, earthy, theatrical form that the drama will follow.
Hats off to CSULB for even attempting such difficult material. Everyone involved with this challenging work deserves a round of applause. Not just the three principles who give it their all (Meghan Dillon as Julie, Kyle Jones as Jean, Avery Henderson as Kristine) but the backstage design team: Amy Laemmerhirt’s fabulous set, Jessica Kohn’s dramatic light design, Lan Li’s costumes and Ryan Brodkin’s sound.
Throughout Strindberg’s dra-
ma, power is expressed in a variety of forms, and tragedy looms around every action. Miss Julie has power over Jean because she’s upper class, but he has power over her because he’s male. Kristine has power over Jean as his fiancé, and her religious belief places her power in the church. Meanwhile, the Count has power over everyone: He’s a nobleman, a male, Julie’s father and the servants’ owner.
Biship’s tight-fisted direction keeps each character’s desperate fight for change lunging around the stage until the inevitable ending.
“Miss Julie” plays Tuesday through Sunday through Oct. 24 in the Players Theatre, Theatre Arts Bldg., CSULB South Campus. For ticket information and directions, call 985-5526 or go to www.csulb.edu/depts/theatre.