Strindberg’s 1888 tragedy “Miss Julie” has stymied many a director and cast, so it’s not altogether surprising that it’s also left adaptor-director-actor Campbell Scott and his cast at the Williamstown Theater Festival floundering. Fortunately, the production is being presented in the festival’s small Other Stage, where failure as a learning experience is honorably acceptable.
Strindberg’s naturalistic dance of class, sex and death is underplayed, emotionally and vocally, to the point where the cast’s conversational chatting can barely be heard even in the tiny theater. Neither the play’s high-powered psychological drama nor its inherent animal sexuality gets across to the audience — there’s simply no sexual magnetism between Scott’s boyish valet Jean and Lucinda Jenney’s unexceptional, girlish Miss Julie.
That this Miss Julie, a count’s daughter, would fling herself into bed with Scott’s valet and commit suicide over the indiscretion is inconceivable. And so the play goes out the window.
Scott, Jenney and Tamar Kotoske, as the cook Christine — along with the eight additional performers — are all seemingly nice, youngish, late-20 th-century types with little feeling for Strindberg, his characters, or late 19 th-century Sweden in general.
Scott has said that he couldn’t identify with any of the existing translations of “Miss Julie,” hence his new adaptation. But this version doesn’t seem to be all that different from Arvid Paulson’s of 1960. True, Scott does bring the other servants onstage more often than Strindberg does, but that only diffuses the audience’s attention. He also opens the play to illustrate master-servant interaction, but too much of the staging is clumsy, and Strindberg himself makes it quite clear that class mobility — both upward and downward — is a vital aspect of his play.
Crucial scenes are poorly staged — there’s too little technical mastery here , heavily furnished set included.
Given the overall underplaying and underprojection of the production, it seems as though Scott has conceived it in cinematic rather than theatrical terms. But even on film his Jean would lack the undercurrent of sexy lower-class loutishness the character must have beneath his extremely thin veneer of gentlemanliness. On the evidence of this production, Jean is not Scott’s role, and “Miss Julie” is not his play.