Culture | Cross-century scandal

Victorian-era concerns find contemporary relevance in TNC’s Miss Julie

TNC’s most recent production, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, opened last Thursday, October 15, before a full audience at McGill’s Morrice Hall theatre. You may have seen the sexy and intriguing posters advertising the performance around campus. A lot of us are quick to dismiss student-run theatre, perhaps because of past horrors of high school classmates’ on-stage antics, or thoughts that low-budget is synonymous with poor-quality.

Nevertheless, Miss Julie, as directed by Rachel Paul, is worth a try. The play’s small cast allows for in-depth character analysis, but the production is first and foremost a social critique that examines the sexual, gender, and class struggles in the late 19th century, as well as the social consequences of sex.

Miss Julie (Cece Grey) is a young nobleman’s daughter who seemingly has it all. On the night of a midsummer festival, she mingles with “commoners” and begins to flirt with one of her servants, Jean (Cory Lipman). Following this flirtation, Miss Julie embarks on a whirlwind adventure by playing around with the taboos of the age: she drinks beer at night alone with Jean, and begins to act out a set of behavioural stereotypes that were typically gendered male in the 19th century. She protests her ascribed social status through a captivatingly sarcastic tone, as a bossy and self-righteous superior.

Contrasting with Miss Julie’s forceful, daredevil nature is another servant and Jean’s fiancé, Kristen (Rachel Penny), who comes across as satisfied with her place in society. A devout Christian, Kristen neither wishes nor is willing to rebel against her underprivileged rank.

All three central characters, Miss Julie, Jean, and Kristen, give strong performances. But it is Jean’s character that dominates the play. At first, his boyish charm and good looks almost convince you to brush off his misogyny. More and more, though, his domineering antics stand out as he orders both female characters around without hesitation. Towards the ending, Jean becomes little more than an overbearing, potty-mouthed chauvinist. Even so, Miss Julie scarcely objects.

As Jean’s power increases, Julie also transforms, perhaps too suddenly, into a weak, childlike, and pathetic character, despite her feminist upbringing. At one point, she even says to Jean, “order me,” a moment sure to make the audience cringe.

The play’s action unravels in a minimalist kitchen setting, an antique collector’s dream. Made up of shabby-chic furniture and kitchenware, the set is an ideal background for the domestic conflict that is the heart of the play.

There were, however, minor glitches in the technical aspects of the production; price stickers were not removed from the bottom of wine glasses, and Miss Julie’s train, though beautiful, was a bulky distraction.

All the same, Miss Julie is an accomplished and scandalous play that will have you writhing in your seat. After all, it was banned in much of Europe when it opened in 1888.

Although the play is set in the 19th century, it still offers modern audiences lessons to take away, particularly in view of the fact that the double standards surrounding men’s and women’s sexual and social roles still exist. Miss Julie raises queries about women’s and men’s current roles, and questions “proper” and “indecent” sexual behaviour. TNC’s production invites you into a world where class and gender roles are powerfully inhibiting, and more importantly, into a world that has an alarming resemblance to the society in which we live today.

Miss Julie runs through October 24 at TNC Theatre, Morrice Hall, 3485 McTavish. For ticket information, email tnctheatre@gmail.com.


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