Tuesday, September 22, 2009

After Miss Julie

So many things are wrong in this play by Patrick Marber, based on Miss Julie by August Strindberg, that I don't know where to begin.
But let's start with the play. Why is it necessary to revamp Miss Julie? It's a great sordid, brutal play, and it was scandalous in 1888, when it was written. The story is timeless. It's about the absurdity of class differences and the war between the sexes.
I wrote a (yet unpublished) novel set in Mexico City that is a version of Miss Julie. Any time that a rich woman has the hots for a poor man, it's either Miss Julie or Lady Chatterley's Lover or both. Sex is kinkier whenever there is a class divide. However, Marber decides to transport the story to England in the 1940's after WWII. This seems totally arbitrary. Why not leave it where it was? The psychological destruction between the characters transcends eras, even if the class differences have been blurred in our modern age. So the 40s don't seem any different than today. Why not do it today? You don't have to live in a manor and be an aristocrat to feel superior and abusive to those who serve you. Mind games are eternal. So the play seems superfluous. It has a couple of good zingers but it is vulgar and shallow (not unlike other Marber plays).  Perhaps it is better than what it is afforded by the lackluster, absurd direction by Mark Brokaw.
The actors sound stilted and frozen, as if speaking British means pausing a full second after every word. Except for a wonderful moment of stagecraft where a mob is supposed to approach the kitchen, the production is utterly boring. The seismic shifts of mood between the actors make no sense. The fact that the driver and Miss Julie are humping feverishly as the mob approaches looks ridiculous. The whole thing is absurd and dead on arrival.
But the biggest problem is the casting. Neither Sienna Miller nor Jonny Lee Miller have the chops nor the talent to play these roles. Nothing they do makes any sense. Miss Miller is at the level of the class ham in a high school production. She couldn't play an aristocrat if it bit her in the rump. She is not of the school of British actresses that can do high style in their sleep. She's like Michael Caine, not like Michael Redgrave; that is, low class. As amply demonstrated by Mr. Caine, there is nothing wrong with that; she is just not right for this part. However, in her defense I will say that she is heard loud and clear, enunciates perfectly and has some good moments here and there, mostly when she is angry (the easiest thing to do when you are a neophyte actor). There is a semblance of character there, even if it's saddled with embarrassing amateurish tics, like what looks from afar like the constant chewing of fingernails. Mr. Miller is absolutely terrible and worse than her. He has no charisma and there is no rhyme or reason to his motivations. Half the time he mumbles. The rest, he huffs and puffs. He is stuck in a kitchen, what is he so exhausted about? It's not that there is zero chemistry between the two Millers, there is minus zero chemistry. Not a good thing when the play is about lust.
The only person with any theatrical dignity is Marin Ireland, a seasoned American stage actress, as Christine, the maid and fiancee of John, the driver. The moral of this story: Britannia doesn't always rule.
I find it really disturbing that the Roundabout Theater is cynical and craven enough to put these two young actors into such a thankless position in order to sell tickets. There are plenty of qualified actors who can play these roles and even bring box office success. These two are not them.


  1. Anonymous10:02 AM

    "I wrote a (yet unpublished) novel set in Mexico City that is a version of Miss Julie."

    And there you have everything you need to know about this pissy little screed.

  2. Anonymous11:00 PM

    I completely agree with everything grande enchilada said, I thought it was a really poor production.