Saturday, January 19, 2008

Strindberg at The Chopin Theater

August Strindberg (1849 – 1912) , the Swedish writer, playwright, and painter, was one of the most important of all Scandinavian authors rivalling Ibsen on the stage. He is known as one of the fathers of modern theatre, with dramas of both naturalism and expressionism over the course of his career. Last night I saw a production by The Hypocrites Theater Company at The Chopin Theater of his best-known play from his early naturalist period, Miss Julie (1888).

The rise and fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 became a political awakening for the young Strindberg, and he started to see politics as a conflict between the upper and lower classes. This conflict is paramount in Miss Julie along with the intense psycho- logical portraits of the characters and the battle of the sexes with the interaction among them. On a midsummer night of 1894 in a small town in Sweden, the young woman of the title, attempting to escape an existence cramped by social mores and have a little fun, dances at the servants' annual midsummer party, where she is drawn to a senior servant, a footman named Jean, who is particularly well-traveled, well-mannered and well- read. As played by the Hypocrites in "promenade" style the play emphasized the raw tension between the three characters on the stage with the overwhelming power of the Father, who is never seen, always in the background. The role of Kristin, was most convincingly played by Samantha Gleisten while I found the roles of Jean and Miss Julie were somewhat uneven no matter how powerful at times. Overall the production (an adaptation by Sean Graney) suffered from an attempt to do too much in the small space and the promenade was shaky at times. Underneath it all, however, was the power of Strindberg's play which, even if somewhat faded, is still very disturbing. This production is certainly worth viewing for the opportunity to experience this dramatic power.

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