Review: Provocative and Polarized, MISS JULIE is Our Society in Microcosm, at Shaking the Tree

By: May. 10, 2017

In a normal time, if you invited me to see a play by a raging misogynist, I'd probably pass. But, August Strindberg's MISS JULIE, now playing at Shaking the Tree, is exactly the perfect play to see right now. Samantha Van Der Merwe, Shaking the Tree's founding artistic director and MISS JULIE's director, has a knack for that.

Strindberg's MISS JULIE was written in 1888 and was widely banned for its shocking content. In the one-act play, Miss Julie, a member of the upper class, has a sexual encounter with her servant, Jean. Most of the play is a power struggle between the two, which is alternately a battle between the sexes, in which he has the upper hand, and between the classes, in which she does. For a play written roughly 130 years ago, it's amazingly relevant today.

At Shaking the Tree, your experience with MISS JULIE (which I saw on preview night) starts the moment you walk in the door. The first thing you'll notice is the set, which is a runway down the center of the space -- all white and brightly lit on one side, all black on the other. As you wait for the play to begin, you'll also hear recordings of President Trump talking about bringing back the coal industry. Whatever your political inclination, my guess is you'll start to feel riled up.

This is all a perfect setup for the play, in which, despite a constantly shifting power dynamic, everything is black and white. There is no grey, no compromise, nothing soft -- just two people, each of whom can only succeed by decimating the other. If it starts to feel like watching the political news, well, I'm pretty sure that was on purpose.

The cast consists of Shaking the Tree regulars Beth Thompson and Matthew Kerrigan in the roles of Miss Julie and Jean, as well as Kelly Godell as Jean's fiance, Kristine. They all give outstanding performances. In fact, I think all three actors reached new heights in this show, and that's saying a lot, particularly for Kerrigan. In his Jean, you felt the anguish of a person who has felt insignificant all his life and the electrifying charge of finally having power, even if it's just the power to destroy someone else.

Overall, I thought MISS JULIE was excellent. If you're up for a show that delves into the twisted human psyche to provide insight into why our society is so incredibly polarized right now, this is your play. MISS JULIE runs through June 3. More details and tickets here.