Wednesday, October 28, 2009

After Miss Julie

Take August Strindberg’s 1888 one-act play Miss Julie, subtract the sexual tension that made it such a controversial work at the time, and you’ll have After Miss Julie, director Mark Brokaw’s dull staging of playwright Patrick Marber's three-character take on that classic tale of sex and class conflict.

Whether seriously miscast or misdirected -- or both -- Sienna Miller and Jonny Lee Miller woodenly walk and talk their way through what should be an erotically charged game of cat and mouse. Ms. Miller’s Julie is stiff, not the sexy, rich young aristocrat who controls men with her beauty and sensuality that she should be. Mr. Miller’s John, valet to Julie’s father, is even further off the mark, completely lacking in the earthy, raw sexuality that the will entice Julie and lead to her downfall.

The essential Miss Julie story is still present, though Marber has reset it in an English country house on July 26, 1945, on the night the British Labour Party won its landslide victory over Churchill’s Conservative Party, promising radical changes and reforms. It is the shifting of the old guard, represented by Miss Julie and her father, and the rising to power of the working class, represented by John and his fiancee, Christine (Marin Ireland).

As in Strindberg’s play, which was set in Norway, Miss Julie lords her status over John, but after seducing him their roles are reversed by the sexual act and John then holds the power. Neither really knows how to adjust to the new expectations and, if you know the end of Miss Julie, you know the end of this one.

Allen Moyer’s single set of the manor house kitchen looks right out of Country Living and Michael Krass’s costumes, in the case of Miss Julie, could have been taken from the pages of 1940s Vogue. It’s a visually attractive play, as is its leading lady, from whom I expected more. I saw her as Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick in the film “Factory Girl” and was really impressed. She was heartbreakingly lovely and self-destructive. If only she could have brought some of that spirit to this play. Although this is her Broadway debut, she has appeared Off-Broadway and in theatres in London, and she didn’t seem uncomfortable on stage here. She just didn’t get the character, unless I shouldn’t compare her to the original. But it’s impossible not to see this as a retelling of Strindberg’s play, so Miss Julie needs to be passionate. Ms. Miller, who has a major tabloid reputation for her passionate nature, should have tried a little more method acting here.

After Miss Julie was first staged in 2003 at London's highly regarded Donmar Warehouse, under the direction of Michael Grandage.

Miss Julie’s first performance was in 1889, the year after it was written. A small-cast Swedish language play is thought to have had its first Broadway performance in 1913, and in all these years the play has only been staged three times on Broadway, and only for short runs.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of After Miss Julie plays through Dec. 6 at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212)719-1300, or online at

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