From the moment you enter the Classic Stage Company's theatre you have arrived on Freedom Day 2012 in a sparse farmhouse kitchen in Eastern Cape, Karoo, South Africa. Steamy, as mist wafts down from over the stage setting. There on all fours is Christine (Patrice Johnson Chevannes), a domestic worker singing softly as she painstakingly cleans the tiles of a kitchen floor with a rag and bucket of water. Over and over, scrubbing every detail. There are ominous storm sounds in the distance, a harbinger of events to unfold.
Christine, in her 60’s, tries to straighten up and groans, signaling the start of the play as the house lights are lowered.
Her son John (James Udom) enters and begins a beautiful and tender exchange with her over adding salt to his food she's prepared before he's tasted it. It is heartwarming to see them interact. John is worried as his mother has been working since dawn and there is no end in sight to her labors. She is worn, tired and uncomfortable. Finally seated, she begins to ruminate about her ancestors buried under the concrete floor. This helps to understand why she cleans it so meticulously. Her current employer built his home over Christine's ancestral burial grounds.
John notices there is a “stink” in the kitchen. Christine explains that she is cooking for the owners’ dog. “You have to cook for her dog now too?” John asks in disbelief. Christine explains that the family dog that Julie (Elise Kibler) loves went into heat. None of the pedigree dogs wanted her, but their mutt had gotten to her. The owners want Christine to prepare and feed the dog something to kill the unborn puppies.
This action is a premonition of what is to come. Powerful scenes, broken dreams, unrequited love, sadness, and tragedy.
Mies Julie - Yaël Farber’s adaptation of the classic August Strindberg Miss Julie - is both an insightful character portrayal and unrelenting opponent of social mores concomitant to apartheid. It requires a strong cast to sustain 70 minutes of stress and heartache. This was not easy.
I highly recommend catching Patrice Johnson Chevannes in the role of Christine - particularly poignant and makes it all worthwhile.
Mies Julie is playing in repertory with The Dance of Death at Classic Stage Company. Read our review of The Dance of Death.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
"Cautious theatergoers unacquainted with Strindberg may dip their toes into his work without being blistered. And this Mies Julie, set in post-apartheid South Africa, allows those audience members left reeling by Ms. Farber’s own, more intense staging of the show six years ago (at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn), to grasp more easily the rhyme and reason of her political recontextualizing of a dark classic."
Ben Brantely for New York Times
"How do you solve a problem like Miss Julie, the aristocratic antiheroine of August Strindberg’s 1888 drama who is strong-willed and imperious to her social inferiors even as she is drawn into a torrid affair with one of her father’s servants? A play that was once too raw and provocative to stage can now seem like quaint melodrama, as it did in a Broadway revival a decade ago starring Sienna Miller and Jonny Lee Miller. But around the time of that production, the Johannesburg-born director and playwright Yaël Farber came up with an ingenious solution — to reset the play in modern-day South Africa, where the clash of historic white privilege and newly liberated black recrimination add exciting new elements to the story."
Thom Geier for The Wrap