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A CurtainUp Review.
This purposefully considered version now at the Classic Stage Company, under the direction of Shariffa Ali, is set in the sparse kitchen of a farmhouse in the Karoo of post-apartheid South Africa. It is a most receptive location for all the hot and sustained heaving it endures over the course of its one long act. Seated in the round and close up to the action, the audience is as close to the activity as any curious voyeur could wish.
This play that once passionately and obsessively tested the social and sexual barriers between the haves and the have nots has remarkably never surrendered the impact of its psycho-sexual dilemma. For that impact to work decisively, however, we still need to feel the heat of the play's occupants. This is something that, despite some occasions for splendid acting and simulated f...ing, don't rise to the occasion. Nevertheless, I don't recall a kitchen table being used as creatively since Jack Nicholson seduced Jessica Lange on one in the filmed remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice .
You may have heard the one about the farmer's daughter. In this instance, white 20-something Afrikaaner Mies Julie (Elise Kibler) doesn't have a simple fling with a travelling salesman but rather see how she spirals out of control with an on-site farm laborer. She can barely contain her lust for John (James Udom), the slightly older strapping young man with whom she has been friends since childhood but treats like a slave. Even as Julie shamelessly taunts him as she recklessly flaunts her desires, it is hard not to think of her as portrayed here more as a petulant teenager than as a young woman with a seriously misguided crush.
If Julie's behavior appears a little fatuous to me in this staging, I eventually got a glimmer in Kibler's performance to what the consequences of her dalliance with John might lead. That dalliance famously sets in motion a series of confrontations that ultimately leads to a tragic end.
Having perused an old copy of the play, Strindberg's dialogue, although ascribed as realistic at one time, struck me as being entwined with some rather arch prose and poetic imagery, certainly an exalted melodramatic style.
Notwithstanding Strindberg's more ludicrous illusions, Farber's text is excellent and eminently reflective of its characters. His adaptation is particularly noteworthy for its dramatic topicality, as is his timely equating of Europe's domination of the working class by the aristocracy with the plight of South Africa's indigenous blacks under the rule of the white settlers.
It is unfortunate that I was only able to grasp about fifty percent of what was said in the presumably well studied Afrikaaner dialect as spoken by the cast. However demonstrably impassioned by their individualized angst neither Kibler's neurotically obsessed Julie or Udom's misguidedly adventurous Jean are able to counter the feeling that their nocturnal tryst is hardly more than a game turned deadly. As staged, we get an eyeful of Meis Julie's dangerous maneuvers and behavior as fueled by drink and desire. What I liked best was being made acutely aware of Jean's careful manners in a play that by its very nature is otherwise mannered to a fault.
Patrice Johnson is excellent as Jean's weary, floor-scrubbing, bible-toting mother as is Vinie Burrows as a ghost who periodically slithers in and out of the action most of which is shrouded in expectations. Mies Julie is being presented in repertory with Strindberg's . The Dance of Death, reviewed by Elyse Sommer. (Review here
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Adaptation by Yael Farber based on August Strindberg play
Directed by Shariffa Ali
Cast: Vinie Burrows (Ukhokho), Patrice Johnson Chevannes (Christine), Elise Kibler (Julie), James Udom (John)
Running Time: 75 minutes no intermission
Scenic Designer: David L. Arsenault
Costume Designer: Ntokozo Fuzunina Kuhene and Andrew Moerdyk
Composer: Andrew Orkin
Lighting Designer: Stacey Derosier
Fight and Intimacy Director: Alicia Rodis and Claire Warden
Sound Designer: Quentin Chiappetta
Production Stage Manager: Roxana Khan
Dialect Coach: Barbara Rubin
Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St.
(212) 352 - 3101 or classicstage.org
Tickets: $80 & $125
From 01/15/19 Opened 02/10/19 Ends 03/09/19
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/06/19
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