An unevenly matched Darrell Dennis and Christine Horne lock horns over sex and class.
MISS JULIE: SHEH’MAH adapted from the play by August Strindberg by Tara Beagan, directed by Melee Hutton (KICK Theatre). At the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). To November 29. Pwyc-$20. 416-538-0988. Rating: NNN
More than a century after its controversial debut, August Strindberg's Miss Julie refuses to die. Soulpepper mounted a disappointing production a few seasons ago, Canadian Stage is tweaking it next, and now comes KICK Theatre's version that sets the play in the midst of a chapter in Canadian history.
First Nations playwright Tara Beagan transplants the claustrophobic play to an estate in the BC interior circa 1929, overseen by Aboriginal servants Christie Ann (Gail Maurice) and Jonny (Darrell Dennis). During one debauched night, the drunk and flirtatious title character (Christine Horne), decked out in flapper-era wear, seduces Jonny - who's always admired her from afar - and kick-starts one long night of sex and class warfare.
Despite some inevitable bits of exposition and long monologues, there are flashes of brilliance in Beagan's adaptation. Julie's talk about Indians and her attempt to equate pale skin with beauty are cringe-worthy but tell you a lot about the times. And the theme of residential school abuse forms a powerful backstory: note how Maurice's Christie Anne, here a fascinating figure of duty and dignity, flinches at talk of abuse.
Director Melee Hutton makes this a highly physical production. The sexual tension isn't just talked about - you feel it, and see the two central characters at their most animalistic and primal. Andy Moro's sound design, drawing on Aboriginal chants and songs as well as period ditties, surrounds the stage in a key scene to great effect.
But as with most productions of the play, it's hard to get a grip on the two lovers. Horne attacks the role with energy and intelligence, but it's hard to keep up with Julie's flailing, shifting allegiances. She seems more Freudian case study than character. (And for some reason Beagan and Hutton have included an unfortunate scene with Julie's birdcage, a detail that gets snickers for its obvious symbolism.)
Dennis has more trouble with his part, breaking up the rhythms of his speeches and rarely showing the pained man beneath the brusque exterior.