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'Miss Julie' Ignites No Passion

Theater review: College actors lack maturity to pull off Strindberg's drama about sex and power between the classes.

November 15, 1997|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MISSION VIEJO — "Miss Julie" doesn't dawdle on its way to forbidden sex and class warfare. August Strindberg wrote it with a 90-minute time limit minus the two intermissions that were standard in the 1890s, when the drama was first staged.

Not that he had to worry about audiences checking their watches back then. "Miss Julie," centering on the one-night stand between an aristocrat's daughter and her brawny valet, kept them transfixed.

Director Lynn Wells sticks with Strindberg's game plan at Saddleback College, at least when it comes to the clock. This student production takes only 85 minutes, but that doesn't prevent fidgeting.

Even with all the passions in "Miss Julie," this is a pretty anemic treatment. Two small casts alternate performances, and the one I viewed on opening weekend lacked the confidence and maturity to fully explore the characters. File this under a learning experience.

Without more complexity and definition, Julie and Jean are merely presented, rather than revealed. Is Julie just a spoiled flake who has the hots for Jean? And what about him, is he simply a social climber who sees her as "the first branch" in the tree? We don't get more than the obvious here.

The play opens as Jean (Joshua L. Taylor, who alternates with John Richard Petersen) and the cook, Kristine (Agneta Stephenson, alternating with Sarah Truly Beers), gossip about Julie (Cherise Wilson, alternating with Theresa Reid) in Wally Huntoon's carefully crafted set of the count's immaculate kitchen.

*

They each let on that Julie's a bit of a fool, though Jean doesn't let on that he knows his mistress better than a servant might. Kristine sees a woman who's jeopardizing her reputation by flaunting herself, but Jean's take on Julie is far more complicated. Their attraction is clear soon after she makes her entrance, all done up in exquisite clothes and equally pretty mannerisms.

Unfortunately, Julie and Jean's dance, made erotic and dangerous by the social differences separating them, is perfunctory, as if the steps were marked down on the floor. Taylor and Wilson do pick things up once desperation and loathing enter the relationship, making the production a bit more interesting.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "Miss Julie," Saddleback College's Studio Theatre, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Tonight, 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 3 p.m. $9. Ends Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Cherise Wilson and Theresa Reid: Julie

Joshua L. Taylor and John Richard Petersen: Jean

Agneta Stephenson and Sarah Truly Beers: Kristine

A Saddleback College production of August Strindberg's drama, directed by Lynn Wells. Set: Wally Huntoon. Lighting and sound: Kevin Cook. Costume and makeup: Diane Lewis. Stage manager: J. Craig Turner.

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