A Theatre Review of Stephen Sach's Adaptation of Miss Julie: Freedom Summer

A Theatre Review of Stephen Sach's Adaptation of Miss Julie: Freedom Summer

A Story by Ashleigh
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A theatre review contrasting Strinberg's original play of Miss Julie and Sach's adaptation of the original play.

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                A young noblewoman with an air of haughtiness, but a less-than-perfect reputation, and a servant of her father have a chance romantic encounter in a flurry of heated desire and drunkenness. The next morning, the two temporary lovers realize the gravity of what they’ve done; how forbidden and punishable their actions were and are faced with many different options, none of them particularly appealing. This is the traditional story of Strindberg’s classic play, Miss Julie, set in nineteenth century Scandinavia; however, Stephen Sachs’ modern adaptation of this classic play, Miss Julie: Freedom Summer transforms this old and tired plot into something fresh and relatable by a modern audience. The noblewoman, Miss Julie, becomes a wealthy white woman in Mississippi shortly after the Civil Rights Act and the servant, Jean becomes a black man in changing times during a time of great conflict in the United States. Stephen Sachs’ Miss Julie: Freedom Summer is a thrillingly racy adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie and even surpasses the original by far through the tumultuous social setting and the dynamic between the actors in the production.
            Stephen Sachs improves upon Strindberg’s Miss Julie by taking a class tension and turning it into a racial tension. This makes the production easier for a modern twenty-first century audience to relate to. The Civil Rights Act in the United States is still close enough in history for a modern audience to fully understand the tension between Jean and Miss Julie and appreciate the fear of persecution, death and ridicule which hits these characters the morning after their sexual encounter. This was a tumultuous time for the United States, especially in the southern states where racism was most prevalent. Greenwood, Mississippi as the setting for this production adds to this tension between races. Not only does the play take place in a very racist town, but it also happens on the fourth of July, Independence Day for the United States. A day to celebrate freedom and acceptance, yet these two people of differing race and class are fearing for their lives, reputation and freedom because of their “one night stand”, so to speak. All of these factors are made plain to the audience by the conversation between Julie, Jean and Kristin, who is Miss Julie’s cook and Jean’s lover, and the constant boom of fireworks and angry shouting heard outside the windows of the kitchen. Through these audio effects, the conversation between the characters and the difference in race between Miss Julie and Jean, it is clear that the intended, but failed tension of the original Strindberg play is achieved in Sachs’ adaptation.
            When looking only at the written words of Strindberg’s Miss Julie on a page, the dialogue feels dead and stunted. The conversation is jumpy and sporadic and it becomes difficult to understand what is happening because of this, but the cast of Sachs’ adaptation, particularly Caroline Cave and Kevin Hanchard as Miss Julie and Jean, breathe life into the stale words of the original play and bring so much energy to it that one can hardly believe that the two versions are the exact same play, despite the fact that the script is nearly word-for-word the same with the exception of a few minor changes to suit the change in time period. Cave walks onstage and demands the attention of the audience, with her blonde firecracker attitude and vibrant red dress. She has an energy that electrifies the audience and quickens heartbeats and her every move commands to be watched. Contrastingly, Hanchard as Jean is introduced as a subdued character, clad in tones of grey and allows the power of Cave to completely overpower him. From examining the characters of Julie and Jean in Strindberg’s original version, it is clear that this is the way the characters ought to start out in the play; however as the play progresses onward, Julie becomes more and more vulnerable and this is when Jean leaps into the spotlight and Hanchard’s talent is showcased. Hanchard displays Jean’s use of mind games brilliantly after he takes Julie’s virginity (as implied by the bleeding after the sex and also surprises the audience, since her reputation and behaviour implies that she is not a virgin) and then uses that hold over her to tug her emotions in different directions until she pleads with him to let her take her own life because she cannot bear to live with the shame of what she’s done. The dynamic between Cave and Hanchard make the original jumpy and confusing script come alive beautifully.

            Through the analysis and comparison of Stephen Sachs’ adaptation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, it becomes strikingly clear that the modern adaptation is an improvement upon the original, due to its more relatable time period and issue to a modern audience and the incredible dynamic between the actors. Sachs takes a play that is no longer applicable to today’s society and beautifully sculpts in into a performance which viewers of today can relate to and understand. The ingenious combination of Caroline Cave and Kevin Hanchard, coupled with clever audio and costuming offers a brand new, rich take on this classic that has dried up and shrivelled away over many years of shift and change. By placing this tired, old script in one of these great shifts, it brings new life to the play and truly “makes the old new again”.

 

 

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Works Cited

Miss Julie: Freedom Summer. Dir. Stephen Sachs. Perf. Caroline Cave, Kevin Hanchet and Raven Dauda.                Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto. 2009.

Strindberg, August. Miss Julie. Trans. Kenneth McLeish. London: Nick Hern Books, 1995.

 

© 2009 Ashleigh


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Added on April 9, 2009
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Ashleigh
Ashleigh

I live absolutely anywhere and everywhere I choose, whenever I please, thanks to a little something called imagination., Canada



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