Not Just Black and White

Lizzy Corn

Upon entering the theater in which the first act of Miss Julie will be performed the audience sees an actor already on stage. August Strindberg’s Miss Julie explores such controversial themes as race, class and sex. It is a play that is performed in two parts, using the same script both times, but changing the actors and the time period in which each production is set.

The first act, set in more modern times, moves at a noticeably slower pace than the second. The set, which is the servant’s kitchen of a wealthy family estate, is very lavish, complete with an elk head mounted on the wall. Junior Kelly McKay positively shined as the title character in this first act. Her body language and the timing of her lines developed the character into someone so that the audience related to this complex girl the most. When presented with a colorful character such as Miss Julie, is it easy for an actor to give a performance that overpowers the role, but McKay did not make this mistake. Her performance should serve as an example to all actors that when cast as an eccentric character, less is more.

McKay’s performance was beautifully complimented by junior Raymon Taft, who plays Jean. Taft and McKay had a vast amount of on-stage chemistry, providing the audience with a mesmerizing performance of both physical comedy and dramatic acting. Their characters were largely driven by the presence or absence of Christine, played by senior Kristin Kwasnik in the first act. Even though Christine is a minor character, Kwasnik used her time on stage to develop the character of the loving, hardworking, simple woman that the script demanded. This prompted the audience to worry for her engagement with Jean when she left the stage and Jean was left with the charismatic Miss Julie.

In the second act Christine’s character was played by junior Arianne Templeton. Although Christine’s relationship with Jean and Miss Julie was clearer in the second act, this over-simplified her character, thus taking some emphasis off the importance of the role. Junior Alex Korman and sophomore Ming Peiffer played Jean and Miss Julie, respectively, in the second act. Somehow in their blur of dialogue they established a sexual tension so extreme that I could feel the audience growing uncomfortable.

Their set was far more simplistic than the first, providing them with essentially only a table and two chairs. With such a minimal set much attention was put on the acting, making it more pertinent that the actors remain true to their characters. Korman and Peiffer got so into character that they knocked over some props by accident. But rather than let these incidents harm their performance they incorporated the falling props to complimenting their intense interactions.

After seeing both acts of the play it is hard not to compare the two. But questioning which half a person “likes” better completely nullifies the purpose of this choice of presentation. This arrangement was a dedication to the power of theater, and its ability to transform a performance. Leaving the second act an audience member asked someone if this act was the same play as the first one. I did not know the right answer to that question and this provocation of thought was the exact purpose of the play.