New play tackles politics, social justice
Morgan Manasa (from left), Robert Tobin and Mary-Kate Arnold in Focal Point Theatre's "After Miss Julie."
‘After Miss Julie’
Focal Point Theatre Company, Piccolo Theatre, 600 Main St., Evanston
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, May 19-June 10; previews 8 p.m. Thursday, May 17 and Friday, May 18
$20, $15 students and seniors, $10 for previews
Updated: May 15, 2012 5:56PM
August Strindberg’s classic tale, “Miss Julie,” is relocated from 1874 Sweden to Post World War II London in Patrick Marber’s “After Miss Julie.”
Focal Point Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Melissa Albertario thinks that a good move. That’s why the Deerfield native is staging the Chicago premiere of the play as the first full-length production in Focal Point’s inaugural season.
Albertario fell in love with the play while studying in London where she earned a master of fine arts degree in directing from the University of Essex. Since Marber’s play is set in 1945, on the eve of an election night when the Labour Party defeated the conservative incumbents, Albertario thought it paralleled the political situation in this country when she returned three years ago. She noted that there was also, “The turnover from an incumbent to a new party that was promising hope and peace. The more time went by, the more I got to witness the fallout from that turnover. The play became more and more relevant. It was a great project to pick at the right time.”
As in Strindberg’s work, “After Miss Julie” is set in the kitchen of the home of a wealthy politician (a count in the earlier work). There his daughter, Julie, engages in a seductive, ultimately tragic encounter with her father’s valet, John (Robert Tobin). Also present is John’s fiancée Christine (Morgan Manasa), who is the cook.
Mary-Kate Arnold plays Miss Julie. “She is such a wonderful actress,” Albertario said. “When she came in and read for us we were blown away by the combination of fragility and vulnerability mixed with her willingness to take risks. She is a very cutting-edge performer. She has no fear.”
Like Albertario, Arnold studied abroad, earning a master’s degree in acting in Birmingham, England. The Iowa native returned to this country in August.
Arnold wanted the role because she has always admired the playwright’s work. In addition, one of her former acting coaches told her that Miss Julie would be a great role for her two weeks before the auditions.
“I think Miss Julie is very visceral,” Arnold said. “Her emotions are on the surface and she’s animalistic. She likes to play games but she only likes to win.”
Arnold believes that her character is “excited about the prospect of change” with the turnover in government. “I think she’s wrapped up in the romanticism of the shift in class but she doesn’t quite understand what it would mean for her.”
Her father is the unseen presence in this work. Arnold believes that Miss Julie has a very distant relationship with him. “I think she admires him but doesn’t know him,” the actor said. “She respects him but, at the same time, she’s frightened of him. It’s a very love-hate relationship.”
Her relationships with her father’s servants are completely different. “She sees a lot of what she wishes her mother was like in the cook Christine,” Arnold said. “She’s kind of a confidante but at the same time there’s this level of superiority that Julie has.”
The character has a far more dynamic relationship with John. “There’s a lot of fatherly characteristics that he has that she enjoys, but there’s also the more visceral or almost sensual aspect of him to her,” Arnold said. She also sees her relationship with John as “a good way to get back at her father.”
“The clash of the two class worlds hadn’t changed much,” director Albertario noted. She added that playwright Marber (whose works include “Closer,” “Dealer’s Choice” and “Notes on a Scandal”) has a reputation for “bringing out a bite in his characters. I think his voice is really effective with this play.”