After Miss Julie marks my second Patrick Marber play and the second Patrick Marber show that I viewed in a theater with under 100 seats, and in this regard the Strawdog Theater Company has done justice to what should be an intimate production.
At the heart of After Miss Julie are the facial expressions, the mannerisms, the telling hand gestures carried by the three actors as they illustrate that the dream of crossing social class moves in both directions. Miss Julie (Maggie Scrantom) is the aristocrat, polished and alluring in her alcohol-induced desire to shock her fellow aristocrats at the night’s festivities. John (John Henry Roberts) is her father’s chauffeur, reserved due to his desire to rise above his station. Christine (Anita Deely) is John’s matronly fiancé, lacking in Julie’s charms but much stronger in her determination to maintain order.
This set-up might sound like the Wikipedia summary of a harlequin novel, and in some respects this comparison seems like an intentional conceit from the playwright. Indeed, desire vs. social expectation is the driving conflict of this novel, set on the backdrop of Churchhill’s lost election in 1945. The rich want to see a rise in the Labor party, but only to the extent that this rise of the workers meets the needs of the rich. For Julie, breaking her inhibitions with a servant seems like a sign of the times, but John is not yet convinced.
For most of the show, the relationships move forward in perfectly timed waves. Understated moments about John and his employer’s as-yet unpolished shoes deliver just as much impact as the more aggressive moments of passion. Similarly, the power triangle (the term “love triangle” hardly applies) pulses until one of the three is declared a winner. Yet, after that climactic moment when a character exits with a symbolic key in hand, the play struggles to rebuild the suspense and the remaining action feels as chaotic as the characters’ psyches.
A quick internet search reveals that After Miss Julie had a tough run on Broadway despite lead actor Sienna Miller. Strawdog’s production leaves one thinking not only about the dangers of succumbing to desire, but also about how Broadway producers envisioned this play in a theater of 1000 seats. To that end, give great credit to Strawdog for providing the ideal intimate experience for the Chicago theater goers fortunate enough to discover this