Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ Comes in New Setting With Highlights of Ballet

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From October 21 to November 8, 2014, August Strindberg Repertory will transport Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” to an antebellum Louisiana plantation in a new interpretation conceived by Artistic Director Robert Greer and adapted by Edgar Chisholm from a translation by Greer. The production will include a ballet sequence, which Strindberg specified in the original manuscript and which has never been performed before. The piece will be directed by Robert Greer and choreographed by Ja’ Malik.

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Ivette Dumeng as Julie, Reginald L. Wilson as John, her father’s butler. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

“Miss Julie” is the actress’s “Hamlet.” It centers on the proud, neurotic child of a degenerate aristocracy who is willing to sink her pride in a frenzied attempt to satisfy her love of sensation. Strindberg originally set the play in a Swedish manor house in 1888. This production moves the location to an antebellum Louisiana plantation in the same year. Julie, the landowner’s daughter, has just broken off her engagement. It’s Mardi Gras; she and the master’s black butler, John (named Jean in the original), dance and drink at her insistence. Hearing the roughneck field hands coming, they hide in John’s room while these rowdies vandalize the house in a ballet sequence. Leaving the room, it is revealed that Julie and John have had sex. The pair plan to flee for New Orleans, to take a steamer to Jamaica and open a hotel there. She steals her father’s cash box to pay for the trip, but their plan is thwarted when John’s fiancee, Christine (the cook), announces that she, enroute to church, will tell the stable boy not to let any horses out until the Master is back. The stakes of being discovered would be even higher for John in the antebellum South than for Jean in the Swedish original. Unable to face the certain scandal, Julie slits her own throat.

The play will be acted by Ivette Dumeng, Reginald L. Wilson and Teniece Divya Johnson.

Strindberg wrote the play in 1888 for his first wife, Siri von Essen (making her a noblewoman playing a noblewoman). It is generally agreed that the play’s suicide scene was inspired by the death of Swedish author Victoria Benedictsson, an early feminist who was also a model for Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. She was one of the greatest proponents of the Swedish realist writing style and had an unhappy love affair with the Danish critic and scholar Georg Brandes, which has often been blamed for her subsequent suicide. Strindberg wrote a ballet sequence into the script to illustrate the wedding party of roughnecks breaking into the mansion, but it has actually never before been performed that way. The playwright was probably inspired by ballets which were interjected between acts 3 and 4 in operas of his period. This production will contain a ballet choreographed by Malik and danced by Allison MacDonald and Joshua LaMar.

Ivette Dumeng (Julie) most recently performed in Neil LaBute’s new play “Bad Girl,” directed by Glory Kadigan, John Patrick Shanley’s “The Big Funk” and his new play, “Tennessee” (multiple revivals including Signature and LAByrinth), both directed by Lori Kee, and “What do you Mean” by Bruce A Kraemer, directed by Joan Kane (59E59, Edinburgh Fringe). She appears regularly in commercials and films and recently guest starred in CBS’s “Blue Bloods.” She is an alumna of T.Schreiber Studio, Producing Artistic Director of Nylon Fusion Theatre Company and a current member of The Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit.

Reginald L. Wilson (John) arrived in NYC in January of 2011 to intern with Woodie King Jr., and The New Federal Theatre and by 2012 has been awarded an Audelco Award (Lead Actor) for his performance as Levee in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” presented by New Haarlem Arts Theatre (NHAT). The year before, he made his NY debut in NHAT’s production of “Blues for Mister Charlie” by James Baldwin and was commended by Nytheatre.com for his “standout performance.” Other New York credits include Layon Gray’s “Black Angels Over Tuskegee,” by Layon Gray, “Twisted,” “Haiti’s Children of God,” “The Whistle In Mississippi” and “The Meeting.” On TV, he has appeared in five episodes of “Celebrity Crime Files” and two episodes of “My Dirty Little Secret.” He holds an MFA in Theater from University of Florida and has taught at CCNY.

Teniece Divya Johnson (Christine) has appeared at The Living Theatre, Teatro Latea, New Haarlem Arts Theatre and Wow Cafe Theatre, Black Spectrum Theatre and National Black Theatre Festival, among others. She has also appeared widely in indie films. She holds an MFA in Acting from University of Florida.

Edgar Chisholm (adaptation) is an award winning playwright, director, and producer. His plays include “Without Love,” “Holiday Diary” (1999 National Federation of Community Broadcasters Silver Reel Award), “The Long Dance” (2010 Raymond J. Flores Playwriting Prize and the 2003 Eileen Heckart Drama award), “Unfinished Work” (2003 New American Playwrights Festival Award), “The Savage Queen” and “Bhavacakra: The Wheel of Life.” His work was recently presented at the Association for Jewish Theatre Conference in Chicago. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab, a Founding member of Harlem Arts Alliance and Uptown playwrights workshop and a Director and Board member of Polaris North Theatre Workshop. He was executive producer of the theatrically released 2010 film, “Deceptive.”

Ja’ Malik (choreographer) is a former member of Cleveland Ballet, Oakland Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, City Dance Ensemble, Ballet Hispanico and Ballet X and is now a freelance choreographer based in Harlem. He has created works for North Carolina Dance Theater 2, Oakland Ballet and CityDance Ensemble of Washington D.C. Recent productions include “Brief Company” for The Columbia Ballet Collaborative in NYC and works in Ballet Builders 20th anniversary and final presentation, E-Moves 11, the historic 92nd Street Y Noon Dance Series and The Young Choreographers Showcase. He self-produced works in Harlem Stages E-Moves 10th anniversary season and The 2009 Reverb Choreographic Project.

Lighting design is by Miriam Crowe, costume design is by Marisa Ferrara, graphics are by Donna Miskend and sound design is by Andy Evan Cohen.

August Strindberg Repertory Theatre (www.strindberg.org), under the direction of Robert Greer, is committed to production of the author’s best, and less often performed, plays in new translations and interpretations that illuminate the plays for today’s American audience. The company made an auspicious debut in 2012 with Strindberg’s autobiographical play “Playing With Fire,” adapted by the late Leslie Lee. The play was re-set from a Swedish Victorian summer house to the black community of Oak Ridge, on Martha’s Vineyard, in the 1920s. That production opened at The New School Theatre and expanded to an Off-Broadway production at the Gene Frankel Theatre, the company’s present home. It received three Audelco nominations: Best Revival, Best Ensemble and Best Costume Design. Cast members from “Playing With Fire” returned to play their corresponding roles in an equally autobiographical play, “Easter,” the next season. “Easter” was adapted from a Swedish coastal town in 1901 to Harlem in 1958. Both productions were directed by Robert Greer.

The company presented a double-bill of Strindberg’s “Casper’s Fat Tuesday” and “The Stronger” in October, 2012 (in a run that was overshadowed by Hurricane Sandy). “Mr. Bengt’s Wife,” Strindberg’s answer to Ibsen’s “The Doll’s House,” was presented in September 2013. Last Spring, the company presented “To Damascus, Part 1,” adapted to Harlem, 1962. August Strindberg Rep is the resident company at the Gene Frankel Theatre.

Robert Greer (director) is founding director of August Strindberg Rep. He has directed English-language premieres of numerous contemporary Scandinavian playwrights, including Sweden’s Marianne Goldman, Helena Sigander, Cecilia Sidenbladh, Oravsky and Larsen, Hans Hederberg, Margareta Garpe and Kristina Lugn; Denmark’s Stig Dalager and Norway’s Edvard Ronning. He has also directed classics by Victoria Benedictsson, Laura Kieler, Anne Charlotte Leffler, Amalie Skram and August Strindberg. His productions have been presented at the Strindberg Museum and Strindberg Festival, Stockholm; Edinburgh and NY Fringe Festivals, Barnard College, Columbia University, Rutgers, UCLA; Miranda, Pulse and Theater Row Theaters, La MaMa E.T.C., Manhattan Theatre Source, Tribeca Lab, Synchronicity, TSI, BargeMusic; and The Duplex in LA. He has also directed plays by Mario Fratti, Sartre and Corneille here in New York. He is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Broadway League, Actors’ Equity; the Strindberg Society, the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study and Swedish Translators in North America.

“Miss Julie” will be presented by August Strindberg Repertory October 21 to November 8 at The Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street (East Village), NYC. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 1:30 PM. There is no show October 31 (Theater is reserved for Actors Fund Benefit.) Tickets are $18 general admission; seniors and students $12, student groups $9. The box office is 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com