Sexual and social tensions run high in ‘Miss Julie’

A new standard for dramatic performance has been set by the University Players in “Miss Julie.”

The cast is impressive as they perform continuously for 90 minutes, work well with the shattered surroundings that are the sets and have the abilities to maintain and increase their emotional levels throughout the show.

“Miss Julie,” written in 1888 by August Strindberg, examines the roles and relationships between the aristocratic and deranged Miss Julie (Meghan Dillon) and her servants Jean (Kyle Jones) and Kristine (Avery Henderson.)

The play begins with Jean and Kristine, who are soon-to-be wed, discussing the recent breakup of Miss Julie and her fiancé. Their gossiping, however, is only a ploy to lure the audience into believing that this play might be light and farcical — then Miss Julie appears.

Like a storm of sexuality and authority mixed with obsession, Miss Julie enters and disrupts the lives of her servants, who by their class respect her, but by their nature distain her. Unlike her servants, there is an odd yet effective steam-punk style to Dillon’s clothing that highlights her class and reinforces her seductress role.

The tension between Jean and Miss Julie is revealed and has escalated to the point where they frantically try to hide their feelings before passionately giving into them. The scene is done with great care to show a certain type of primal fervor without being obscene, which is a tricky thing to accomplish but well done in this performance.

The compelling aspects of this play reach beyond the mere story. Anyone who has ever regretted a mistake can sympathize with the desperation of the characters, who only want to put their houses in order after some terrible judgment calls. The way the characters are forced to deal with the consequences of their actions practically paralyzes the audience in their seats.

The dreamlike nature of the play is reinforced by the surreal set that features staircases to nowhere and furniture hung from the walls and ceiling. The creative use of lighting taps into the subconscious particularly well throughout the show. It is especially effective during a scene just after Jean and Miss Julie give into their passions. The lighting pattern of bars strengthens that knowledge that they’ll never be equals as long as they’re living in the home of Miss Julie’s father.

It is during this part of the show that the versatility of the University Players crosses into excellence. The change in Jones and Dillon from warm to callous and authoritative to doubt, respectively, is disturbingly captivating to behold. The fall of Miss Julie draws on the sick fascination that a society has with watching their highest echelon fall into the gutter.

Jones should receive a special commendation for his role as Jean as he is in every scene and exhibits a wealth of emotions ranging from quaintly charming to callously savage. Dillon and Henderson also work well as mirror opposites, both in dress and personality.

“Miss Julie” is a remarkable work that cannot be ignored and is performed in a way that its message will never be forgotten.

“Miss Julie” is playing at the University Players’ Theatre at Cal State Long Beach until Oct. 23. Tickets are $12 for CSULB students.

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