There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In 1888, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie challenged audiences’ class consciousness with the shocking elements of a sexual encounter between the daughter of an aristocratic family and her servant. Julie, by Otho Eskin, currently being produced by the Scena Theatre, updates the class conflict by setting it in the American South of the 1920s. Overripe Julie (Christine Rebecca Herzog) is still a spoiled idler, carrier of her mother’s nymphomania; and the forbidden object of her desire, Ransom (David Lamont Wilson), is the family’s black chauffeur. His fiancee, the cook Cora (Deidra LaWan Starnes), faithfully presents prevailing society’s values—scorn for miscegenation and idolization of white folk as her natural superiors. On a warm midsummer’s night, Julie and Ransom have been dancing to the devil’s music, jazz—which Cora correctly predicts will lead to disaster. After dispatching Cora to bed, Julie and Ransom get down to the sexual parry and thrust. At one point, Julie’s on the kitchen table in a pose rarely seen outside the gynecologist’s office. After one of these passes, Ransom warns her, “We not children. We playin’ with fire.” “Fire keeps me warm,” she coos. “You can get burned,” he counters. “Are you going to burn me?” she asks. As they sidle closer, they share dreams with each other, right out of Freud’s Big Book of Symbolism: Julie dreams she’s trapped in a tower from which she’s afraid to fall, but where she knows she can’t be happy. Ransom dreams of climbing a tall tree into the sunlight. When they step out together to the garden, she falls, he rises, and nature takes its course. Strindberg meant the issue of who seduced whom to be ambiguous, but Herzog’s Julie pants for her man with all the subtlety of Susan George’s forays to the slave quarters in Mandingo. When she hits the kitchen floor for her third bout of writhing, the effect is unintentionally comical. And Wilson hits only one note from beginning to end: Whether he’s lusting, dreaming, or just asking for a beer, it’s all at the top of his lungs. When Herzog and Starnes join him in the screaming finale, the crescendo is almost unbearable. Director Robert McNamara’s staging in the Warehouse Theatre is unimaginative. But Michael Stepowany’s set contains no extraneous elements, so you can pass the time wondering what the knife on the chopping block will be used for and when the phone will ring. As for the gun, it sits idle way too long. —Janet Hopf