REVIEW: Stellar Performances Drive ‘Miss Julie’ in Guerrilla Shakespeare Production

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Sam Nelson and Sarah Anderson in “Miss Julie.”

FINAL PERFORMANCE is TONIGHT at the RADIO ROOM in Greenville

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

The Guerrilla Shakespeare Company presents its second summer production this weekend with the engrossing classic “Miss Julie” by naturalist playwright August Strindberg.

“Miss Julie,” as well as the company’s staging of Mike Bartlett’s “Bull” last month, examines power dynamics in the workplace with Darwinian principles.

Whereas “Bull” takes place in a contemporary office environment, “Miss Julie,” featuring most of the same cast and creative team, was written in 1888 and is set in the kitchen of a wealthy Count’s estate.

Sam Nelson as the Count’s valet Jean reunites with Elli Caterisano who plays the Count’s volatile daughter, the titular Julie. Rounding out the characters is his fiancée Christine, played by Sarah Anderson, fresh off a successful starring turn in “The Winter’s Tale” by the Upstate Shakespeare Festival.

It’s Midsummer’s Eve (Summer Solstice) and Julie has just broken off her engagement,

Undeterred, she resorts  to cavalierly gallivanting with the help, including dancing with the gamekeeper and cavorting with Jean, right under the nose of Christine, who soon falls asleep due to exhaustion.

A saucy Caterisano alternatively flirts with Jean and, as the mistress of the manor, orders him around. But even her commands have an undercurrent of licentious motives, such as forcing him to kiss her feet, demanding he pour her a drink, stolen from her father’s collection.

And the intuitive Nelson, who dominates the proceedings from the get-go with measured cadences  and crisp intonation (a al Shakespearean clarity), resists her beguiling propositions as she toys with her servant, not because she is attracted to him as much as just because she can.

The power struggle goes back and forth precipitously until the amorous affair is consummated. Then, the balance shifts entirely in Jean’s favor. We discover he is worldly, but also a player, a liar, a thief and a heartless murderer.

And convinced that the staff will find out about their humiliating tryst between an heiress and a commoner, they conspire to leave town and open a hotel in Switzerland with money Julia has stolen from her father.

The dual of wits and control plays out to revealing and tragic ends as these thoroughly fleshed out characters unravel their motivations and societal entreaties such as Julie proclaiming “Being poor must be an infinite misfortune” and Jean declaring her a “whore” after he deflowers her.

The always-solid Anderson doesn’t have much as the devoutly pious Christine, but her character does reinforce the status quo of the aristocracy, the separation of the classes, and the era’s devaluation of women.

Julie, on the other hand, was raised by a suffragette but even she, as Jean so eloquently acknowledges, kowtows to a man and “falls down to his level.”

Caroline Davis, also from “Bull”, directs “Miss Julie” with a shrewd compactness and illustrious command of the material, championing both the emotional and physical arcs, movement and imagery demonstrative of the sparring of the sexes and social classes.  At one point, she has the engaging Caterisano stand on a chair towering above the very tall Nelson demanding that he kiss her hand.

This tidy and sparse little production is empathically consuming with resonance and dramatic gusto. And Davis, producer Robert Fuson and Stage Manager Stephanie Ibbotson pull off this feat on a half-a-shoestring-budget (on this evening) against the industrial backdrop of the Quest Brewing Company vats.

“Miss Julie” may be low on production values, but it’s this kind of gritty, guerrilla theatre that allows to audience to appreciate and grasp the weight of the performances without the distraction of  flashy scenery. Besides, Nelson would just chew it up anyway!

Bravo to the Guerrilla Shakespeare Company!

“Miss Julie” continues its FINAL PERFORMANCE tonight at 7:30 p.m. at The Radio Room, 110 Poinsett Hwy.  $10 suggested donation at the door.

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