Sometimes the most interesting dramas are the simplest – a single set, a few characters, a conflict. “Naturalistic” plays, as they are sometimes referred, were the result of a late 19th century movement in European theatre to enhance the realism of plays with an understanding of how heredity and environment can influence an individual.
The most famous play to come out of this period is Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Set in the downstairs kitchen of an estate, it’s a three-character piece examining issues of sex and class. The title character’s the daughter of a count with an eye for the manor’s chauffeur, complicated by the presence of the manor cook who also happens to be the chauffeur’s wife-to-be.
Playwright Patrick Marber (Closer, film’s Notes on a Scandal) adapted the play for British television in 1995 under the title After Miss Julie and a stage version premiered in 2003. It’s the version running now through March 3 at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West.
Marber moved the time and setting of the play to post-WWII England, specifically to the night of the Labour Party’s landslide victory over Winston Churchill and the Conservative Party. The significant upheaval to Great Britain’s political and social system is reflected in the characters.
Miss Julie (Illana Niernberger) is literally “to the manor born”, but that doesn’t stop her from slumming with the servants. John (Sam Coughlin) is the Lord of the Manor’s chauffeur who, while harboring a long love for Miss Julie, is to be married to Christine (Jennifer Coté), the manor cook. Miss Julie is used to getting what she wants, and that includes John. John wants something, too, and that is to “improve” his lot in life and Miss Julie can facilitate that. Christine wants a simple life with a husband with a pension and a family.
Co-Directors/Scenic Designers Elizabeth Craven and David Lear elicit strong performances from the cast. Niernberger’s Julie is lost in a changing society, turning on a dime from entitled superior to groveling submissive. Coughlin’s John is the villain of the piece, desperate to be something other than he is at any cost, but destined to be no more than a (literally) bootlicking lackey. Coté’s Christine is the most aggrieved of the party, but she is willing to overlook – or forgive – John’s boorishness to ensure she gets what she wants.
After Miss Julie is a classic love triangle told exceedingly well, though the question of how much “love” exists between any of them is up for debate.
‘After Miss Julie’ runs through March 3 at Main Stage West in Sebastopol. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 8pm. The Sunday matinee is at 5pm.
For more information, go to mainstagewest.com