Strindberg's 'Miss Julie'


Nicole Reding and Paul McClain headline "Miss Julie" at UF's Constans Theater.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 31, 2003 at 9:44 p.m.
Written in 1888, "Miss Julie" was banned in playwright August Strindberg's native Sweden for its strong language and sexual imagery.
This psycho-sexual pas de deux between the unstable daughter of a count and his ambitious valet was at first considered too radical. But eventually it played on stages throughout the world, was filmed several times and made into a ballet.
Now "Miss Julie" becomes an aerial, dance drama in the University of Florida's Department of Theatre and Dance production. The performance, directed by Judith W.B. Williams and choreographed by Kelly Cawthon, runs Tuesday and Wednesday at Constans Theatre.
"This is not purist Strindberg," says Williams, a professor who chaired the department from 1989-1997. "I hope that I have underscored his essence, distilled and somewhat modernized."
The story sticks closely to the original, Williams said - the setting remains the servants' kitchen of a Swedish manor house on midsummer night's eve - except she cut about 25 minutes of dialogue. Instead, this sexual and class struggle is performed through a mix of theater, dance, music and digital dance.
"On the simplest level, the dancers represent the ids of the characters - what the characters would like to be doing if only they dared," says Williams, noting the dance scenes are highly stylized.
Lead characters Jean and Julie are portrayed by actors and dancers. In one scene, Jean and Julie, the dancers, consummate their relationship in an aerial dance.
"They do it on a trapeze, six feet above the stage. It's one of the most erotic scenes I've ever seen in a production," said Williams.
There is no nudity in the play. However, the dancers wear flesh-colored leotards that, with the lighting, make them appear naked, Williams said.
"The next scene segues into Jean and Julie coming back on the stage. Jean is strutting his stuff, and Julie is distraught," she said.
Williams calls the characters "brilliantly matched."
"In this play, I see two determined people battling one another for power and control, love and lust, as well as life and death," writes Williams in her director's note.
Miss Julie and Jean are played by Nicole Reding and B. Paul McClain, respectively. Julie and Jean the dancers are played by Cawthon and Joseph Hofrichter. Christine, the cook and Jean's fiancée, is played by Sharon Chudnow.
Feminist critics portray Strindberg as a misogynist, yet he was married three times, says Williams. "He was driven, focused, unstable; the line between reality and unreality was frequently blurred for him."
Williams has never directed a Strindberg play but has wanted to direct this one "for years." She calls their rehearsals "experimental" and "improvisatory." "We've been fascinated with using circus techniques and psychodrama," she says.
"We explored the primordial impulses simmering just below the surface of social position and manners, and what triggered them to ignite, then abate, and finally to explode leading to a path of destruction," she wrote in her director's note.
While some might call the ending depressing, Williams sees it otherwise.
"It's a celebration of the human spirit," she says. "It doesn't always triumph. But sometimes the attempt is magnificent."
The Richard Demarco Foundation has invited UF's "Miss Julie" to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland later this month.
"It's an incredible honor to be asked to go," said Williams, "and such an honor for the students to have their work showcased and to see theater from all over the world."
Julie Garrett can be contacted at 374-5049 or by e-mail to garretj@gvillesun.com.

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