FREE FOR ALL, A New “Miss Julie” for a New World
Puppeteers (Miyaka P. Cochrane and Charlie Gray,) pull strings to animate Miss Julie’s (Stacy Ross) pet bird who’s found a mate, as she looks on.
I’ll say! A new “Miss Julie”. Is it ever. In all my years of playgoing and reviewing, I can honestly say, this adaptation of a classic –or contemporary- play, is like nothing I have ever seen. Stacey Ross as Miss Julie is at her most dynamic: non-stop verbiage and loose, but contained, natural physicality; whether in a ski-outfit or evening gown, she rocks the part.
According to the program notes, playwright Megan Cohen was asked by director Ariel Craft if she had any ideas about Strindberg’s 1888 play, “Miss Julie.” “Writing for Ariel’s adventurous sharp-eyed directorial style and creating róles specifically for our actors, Stacy Ross and Phil Wong,” Cohen says, “was the best kind of challenge.'” She goes on to say that she was met with a team that feared no risks and offered full generosity at every step. The result: 900 hundred pages winnowed down to the 64 page play now at Cutting Ball. She cleverly sticks to the “UpstairsDownstairs” division and all its ramifications: misogyny, classism, and Strindberg’s own prejudices, yet around them the tension and repartee is evident as Julie and the valet, John (orig. “Jean”), circle around each other in John’s kitchen as his fiancé and kitchen helper, Christine (not seen) sleeps in a chair nearby. Also, Cohen makes the dark specter of immanent climate disaster a big part of the plot. She sets the play on San Francisco’s Nob Hill (OWKA “Snob Hill”) where, in a snowstorm, Julie, in ski outfit and boots, schusses down from the top. (Hilariously simple special effects are provided by puppeteers Miyaka P. Cochrane and Charlie Gray who manipulate Julie’s ski poles to track with her many tricky ski moves.) While tacking right or left, she babbles on in a stream of consciousness into a flutter of snow (cleverly created by Eteya Trinidad who tosses random handfuls of shredded paper into a fan) about drastic changes in the weather: melting ice and the immanent sea rise where most of the city will be underwater, except of course, Nob Hill. She grouses about a party to be held in her mansion that very evening, musing as to whether she’ll even attend, and who’s invited (described scathingly and cattily). Entering her mansion, she bumps into her servant, John, whom she appears not to know, carrying a bag of groceries for the event.
Center rear: Stacy Ross framed by Puppeteers Miyaka P. Cochrane and Charlie Gray; forefront Phil Wong.
Miss Julie is drawn to the kitchen where John is preparing -right before our eyes- deviled eggs for himself and Christine (who never appears, but is spoken to) which Julie doesn’t hesitate to devour with orgasmic relish. Both characters break the fourth wall throughout, addressing audience members directly and making eye-contact as though speaking to Christine or a guest, which can be disconcerting, thus sorely tempting one to engage in dialogue. No one took the bait. Ross and Wong also play two male tuxedoed party-goers (Wong in a ridiculously exaggerated black moustache), as Jacobsen and Brockingfield, who deign to visit the kitchen looking for more champagne; they grow increasingly intoxicated, unsteady, and snobbish.
Power trips are played, John allows himself to be humiliated for Miss Julie’s pleasure. As the scene progresses, as in the original, Julie blatantly seduces John. He confesses that as a humble, poor child, he would climb the hill to spy on her and describes what it was like, how he felt. Will Julie give up everything and run away with John? Will he allow her take her caged bird and its mate along? (Birds come alive under Cochrane and Gray’s clever handling.) Miss Julie and John’s fates are sealed when the earth unleashes its wrath: earthquakes rumble, fires burn, seas rise. Nob Hill becomes an island- trees and wrecked mansions are hung with scorched bunting. Miss Julie and her chef/valet John end up like characters on “Lost.”
I strongly suggest that you Go See! “Free for All” at the intimate Cutting Ball Theatre at 277 Taylor between Eddy and Ellis. Weeknights 7PM, weekends, Fri-Sat 8pm Sundays 2 PM. Oct. 10/3. 2PM, Fri, Sat 8PM. Some performances start at 7 on a weeknight; there’s a 2PM show on a Thursday. Go to: http://cuttingballtheatre.com/calendar for the full schedule; directions and parking.