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Theatreworks stages a must-see about sex and class

click to enlarge From left: Lynne Hastings, Jessica Austgen and Laurence - A. Curry in an Oh no, you just didnt moment.
  • From left: Lynne Hastings, Jessica Austgen and Laurence A. Curry in an Oh no, you just didnt moment.

If you've ever thought you should do more to support local theater, but find yourself at home watching television instead: Haul yourself over to the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, and do it now. UCCS Theatreworks' production of Miss Julie, directed by Murray Ross, is quite simply the most riveting 90 minutes of theater you're likely to see in Colorado Springs or elsewhere this year.

Swedish playwright August Strindberg's one-act collision course of sexuality and class division doesn't waste a word of dialogue. It invites the audience to watch its characters twist and lurch from learned behavior to instinct, longing to lust, hatred to tenderness. This ride keeps its audience on edge and in thrall continuously.

Written in 1888 and roundly hated by critics for its vulgarity, the play takes place across one midsummer's eve. A flighty and unusual young noblewoman, Miss Julie, dances a dangerous tango with her father's footman, Jean, leading to intense debate and self-scrutiny, a forbidden sexual encounter and ultimate tragedy. Christine, the pious kitchen servant, completes a morally complex threesome.

Ross and his staff have assembled all parts of the production with equal care. The set, a rustic Swedish kitchen with a massive wood table and glowing antique cast-iron stove, is simple but exquisite, and the lighting by Denver designer Lloyd Sobel perfectly captures the intimacy of the play and its setting.

But Miss Julie is an actor's dream playground, a verbal sparring match with more crosscuts, feints and footwork than a prizefight, and Ross' casting is impeccable. As Miss Julie, Jessica Austgen is a wound-up bundle of nerves and confused sexuality. Her performance grows in psychological depth and nuance as the hour passes.

Ross cast African-American actors in the servants' roles, assuming rightly that the class issues not so clear to Americans might resound more clearly across a racial divide. Laurence A. Curry's Jean is a fully formed man of great contradiction, paralyzed by the restraints of servitude and class, but bursting with dreams of greatness. He commands the stage with a dancer's grace. Lynne Hastings' Christine is perfectly downplayed, a woman who knows her place and wants no part of the foolishness going on around her.

Strindberg's misogyny and mistrust of women, especially those pesky liberated ones, have lost none of their bite over the last century. And while the scandal of a playwright treating sexuality as an issue separate from love or legal partnership might seem tepid in today's times, be assured that nothing in Miss Julie is tepid. Those embers in the kitchen stove are still burning, hot and bright.

capsule

Miss Julie
Theatreworks' Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive
Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.; through March 12
Tickets: $22 in advance; $25 at the door, with group rates available; visit
uccstheatreworks.com
or call 262-3232.

  • Theatreworks stages a must-see about sex and class

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