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Director Sees ‘Miss Julie’ as at Home in O.C. : Drama: The head of the London-based Theatre in Exile thinks Strindberg’s century-old feminist classic has something to say about today’s sex roles.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Joseph Hossein Karimbeik, who heads the London-based Theatre in Exile, the idea of staging August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” at the Forum Theatre here seemed a natural.

During his years in London, where he co-founded the troupe with Dario Fo, Hanif Kureishi and other notable writers, he discovered that “a lot of American tourists came to see our productions. And I noticed an amazing thing: Many of them lived in a place called Orange County.”

Thus, when he came to Southern California six months ago to star in an independently financed Hollywood movie, he figured that Laguna Beach might be a friendly place to set up theatrical shop until filming began.

As for choosing to mount Strindberg’s century-old play, Karimbeik cites two obvious reasons--its ageless themes of sexism and class antagonism. Despite the playwright’s notorious misogyny, “Miss Julie” is a classic feminist drama--among the first in the 19th-Century canon--and it is fresher in some ways than those of Strinderg’s predecessor, Ibsen.

“One of the first things I noticed when I came here,” said Karimbeik, a handsome, 39-year-old, compactly built Iranian, “is that women are trying to prove so hard that they are as good as men.

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“Well, I thought, that is what ‘Miss Julie’ is all about.”

Another, less obvious reason for staging Strinderg’s classic is that there are only three main characters in the cast, “which makes my life much easier as the director,” Karimbeik pointed out, especially considering what happened at the open auditions he held in Los Angeles.

“I put ads in the papers and I got about 500 people,” he recalled. “But I was very surprised: Out of all this 500, two were good. . . . So I had to speak with somebody for the role of Miss Julie who doesn’t have the experience but who has the quality and the talent.”

Perhaps Karimbeik should have been less surprised. He was not offering to pay any of his actors. In fact, while the theater rental fee and related costs are higher than expected--he says they’re getting into the neighborhood of $10,000--the production itself is being mounted virtually on a shoestring.

Karimbeik, born and raised in Tehran, left his native country for England 19 years ago, as a university student, when Iran was still ruled by the Shah. He had been “labeled a troublemaker” by the Iranian authorities, he said, because of his cultural activities in the poor, semiliterate neighborhood where he grew up.

By the late ‘70s, Karimbeik enrolled at the London Drama Centre--then headed by Peter Brooke--and began to make a career as an actor on British television.

In 1982, Karimbeik also became artistic director of Theatre in Exile, a touring company that stages the work of many Third World immigrants.

Using a pseudonym, Karimbeik wrote and directed three plays in a four-play cycle called “Someone Else’s Child,” about the repression of Iranian women under the Khomeini regime, which had taken over Iran in October, 1979.

Although Karimbeik has moved to Laguna Hills, where he lives with his wife and son, the theater’s London operation continues, he said.

Karimbeik said he plans to divide his time between California and England, where he acts in “at least three television shows” a year. Meanwhile, the Hollywood action movie in which he was signed to star--called “The Rogue"--hasn’t begun filming because of “the usual complications with the financing,” he said.

That leaves him in limbo, if not in exile. And the financially risky undertaking of “Miss Julie” gives him a sense of having embarked on a serious cause in a fool’s paradise.

“You try to do something worthwhile,” he said. “But it is very difficult.”


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