In 1888, Miss Julie was written by August Strindberg about the relationship between a young noble woman and her servant in Sweden. In 2013, Liv Ullmann directed a film version starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell set in Ireland. And now, in 2018, Yaël Farber’s version premiers at Victory Gardens Theatre.
Mies Julie and John are in love. There’s just one problem. Julie is the white daughter of the land owner and John is a black slave. If her father ever found out about them, he’d kill them both. She wants to run away with him, but he doesn’t want to leave his mother behind. This sounds like a story from the 1800s in the South to Americans. However, this story takes place in 2012 in South Africa. Apartheid ended in 1994, but this end hasn’t yet fully affected remote desert areas disconnected from current events.
The performances are so powerful and intense. Heather Chrisler (Machinal) is fantastically devious as Mies Julie. It’s a constant battle of one-upmanship with Jalen Gilbert as John, who she keeps calling a kaffir. This is a very offensive South African term for a black person. He matches her intensity and they have great chemistry together, even though they just met at the audition for this play. Celeste Williams is excellent as John’s mother who is just working hard to survive and not anger her master. Also, T. Ayo Alston is great as Ukhokho. She plays her instrument smoothly while she sings beautifully. It ties in well with the original music created by Stephen Ptacek for this production.
The play is only 72 minutes long. The shortness of the play allows the actors to spend less time learning the lines and more time working on the small details and it pays off. This attention to detail also applies to the set, which was designed by Kurtis Boetcher. It truly creates the scene with a 8 foot fan, a live bird in a cage, roots breaking the floor, and so much more.
Get tickets now for Mies Julie now through June 24!
If you are interested in learning more about apartheid, check out Born A Crime by Trevor Noah.