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August Strindberg's Miss Julie

Company presents Miss Julie at Dukesbay Theater

Miss Julie (Katelyn Hoffman) and Jean (Nick Spencer). Photo credit: Niclas Olson

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Strindberg's classic play Miss Julie was extremely controversial when first produced in France at the end of the 19th century. This newly adapted version by Niclas Olson's New Muses Theatre Company and performed in Tacoma's Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center building, is dark and slightly confusing, but definitely in keeping with the author's naturalistic style.

By slightly confusing, I do not mean that the story doesn't make sense, but rather that the main characters, Miss Julie (Katelyn Hoffman) and Jean (Nick Spencer), are confused about their own motives, desires, and feelings for each other. During the opening night performance, I was swept up with their confusion and felt disoriented throughout much of the play. It bothered me at first that no matter how excited or angry Miss Julie was, Hoffman portrayed her with cool detachment, and it bothered me that I could not get a handle on whether or not Jean loved or hated, idolized or was indifferent to Miss Julie. I thought Hoffman's strange way of staring off into space and her tightly controlled passion were signs of stifled acting, but I gradually began to realize that she was portraying a strange character with utmost naturalism.

Naturalism to Strindberg meant everything from sets to lighting to acting should be unadorned; i.e., not theatrical. Olson, who not only adapted the play but also directed it and designed the set, created a simple kitchen with heavy wooden tables and simple kitchen implements of a style that would have been used in the day (with the possible exception of the terrycloth wash rags, and I'm not too sure about the beer bottles). His only concession to theatricality was a beautifully painted floor, an even more beautiful scrim at the back of the set, and lighting that is subtle but which becomes strikingly dramatic in a moment when Miss Julie looks up at the rising sun burning through the kitchen window and the light glows on her face.

During the course of a single evening, the spoiled daughter of a French count, Miss Julie, and her father's valet, Jean, engage in flirting and fighting, an implied sexual tryst, and heated arguments about class, religion, and the roles of men and women. Some of this takes place within the hearing of Jean's fiancé, the cook Kristin (Kelsey Harrison), whose relationship with Jean is also convoluted and strife-filled.

Miss Julie is haughty and demanding but wishes she could come down to Jean's level. She dreams of falling from her aristocratic heights, and she demands that Jean the servant tell her what to do and says she will follow his orders. And Jean, who is more worldly and well-read than one would expect from someone in a servant role, vacillates between being subservient and defiant. He asks her to run away with him, but neither of them is really sure they want to. Their seemingly unsolvable conflicts culminate in a tragic end that is strongly suggested but not explicitly stated.

The story is deceptively simple yet filled with complex social, philosophical and moral questions.

Miss Julie runs 80 minutes with no intermission.

MISS JULIE, Friday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m. through July 19, added production July 16 at 8 p.m., Dukesbay Theater in the Merlino Arts Center, 508 South 6th Ave., Tacoma, $10,­Julie.html

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