- Last Updated: 10:49 AM, November 26, 2012
- Posted: 11:08 PM, November 25, 2012
St. Ann’s Warehouse, 29 Jay St., Brooklyn; 866-811-4111. Through Dec. 16. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
No, that’s not a typo: It’s “Mies Julie,” not “Miss Julie,” that’s playing St. Ann’s Warehouse. This blistering adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 classic is set in present-day South Africa, adding a racial charge to its class-conscious depiction of the war between the sexes.
Written and directed by South Africa’s Yael Farber, this deeply resonant production from the Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town was an award-winning hit at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The action takes place at a homestead in the country’s Karoo desert region on Freedom Day, commemorating Nelson Mandela’s election in the post-apartheid country 18 years earlier. While the workers celebrate outside, the white estate owner’s daughter, Julie (Hilda Cronje), consoles herself over being dumped by her fiancé by hanging out in the kitchen and brazenly flirting with a black servant, John (Bongile Mantsai), as he polishes boots.
Warily watching from the sidelines is his mother, Christine (Thoko Ntshinga), the domestic worker who raised them both.
The heat between the pair is palpable, as the scantily clad Julie taunts John, who reacts with a well-worn wariness that barely masks his lust.
“She’s like all the white women,” he tells his mother. “Too proud. But not proud enough.” Eventually he succumbs to Julie’s advances, in a torridly explicit encounter so steamy that it makes the stage fog redundant. But their assignation has fateful — and fatal — consequences.
The new setting infuses the play with an even greater emotional charge than usual.
“Do you feel free?” Julie asks John, who replies in the affirmative. “Good. Now kiss my foot. To show just how far we’ve come in almost 20 years,” she cynically responds. Later, when their interactions become heated, she uses the derogatory South African term for black people.
“A kaffir will always be a kaffir,” she hisses.
The taut, almost unbearably tense atmosphere is enhanced by the looming presence of a ghostly “ancestor” (Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa) who observes the action while occasionally breaking into song, and a pair of musicians who provide an ominous, computer-generated soundscape.
Inhabiting their roles with a ferocious erotic intensity, Cronje and Mantsai are riveting. Thanks to them and their playwright-director, Strindberg’s incendiary drama is more fiery than ever.