'Miss Julie' has strong themes, but lacks cohesion, empathy

Encumbered by the seemingly endless complexities of its plot, English Alternative Theatre's production of "Miss Julie" never quite leaves the ground.

The play takes place at the turn of the 19th century on Midsummer's Eve. Miss Julie, the count's daughter, has chosen to celebrate the holiday with the servants at her father's manor.

Shaken after a broken engagement, Julie's flirtation with her father's valet, Jean, leads to her disgrace and downfall.

The play lacks cohesion between characters, plot and scenery, leaving the audience to pick up the pieces and put them together with little guidance. To be fair, the confusion seems inherent in August Strindberg's script and is simply carried out by the EAT cast.

The characters of Julie and Jean, played by Jan Chapman and Phillip Schroeder, seem to rise above the confusion and crystallize during brief scenes of dialogue. Then their characters are bogged back down by plot details.

Julie and Jean waffle over who they are. Is Jean resentful and manipulative or friendly and subservient? Is Julie a strong, defiant woman or weak and gullible? At play's end, Julie and Jean's true motivations and personalities are still in question.

Throughout the play, Jean and Julie struggle with the issues of class and feminism. Chapman and Schroeder do an excellent job of conveying the problems that class presents their characters. However, the point the play is trying to make about feminism goes in and out of focus. The conclusion is that women acting outside society's strict code will get theirs in the end.

The plot is full of fine points that are meant to enhance the characters of Julie and Jean. However, elements such as Julie's pets, her menstrual cycle and the feast of St. John the Baptist make the plot stutter and add another layer of confusion.

Nothing hindered the plot more than the dance number plopped in the middle. Meant to convey the revelry and passion of Midsummer's Eve festivities, it turned into a crude 1880s Britney Spears video.

In the end, "Miss Julie" communicates its central themes about class and feminism well, but fails to make us empathize.

The show continues at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

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