“Miss Julie,” August Strindberg’s 1888 classic, has inspired so many high-profile adaptations — the work has been relocated to Britain, Ireland, America, Russia and (most effectively) South Africa — that I was tempted to call for a moratorium on new versions of the play out of fear that Antarctica might be next.
Luckily, I held off. Christiane Jatahy, a Brazilian artist who has had similar dealings with Chekhov, transports “Miss Julie” to contemporary Brazil in “Julia,” a stunning multimedia riff on the Swedish playwright’s combustible tale of an aristocrat’s tragically consequential dalliance with her father’s servant.
The 70-minute production, which ends its brief run at REDCAT on Sunday, gracefully interweaves film, live video and carnal performance to tell its story. (The work is performed in Portuguese with English supertitles displayed in a way that encourages the audience to stay focused on the propulsive rhythm of the dialogue rather than on the word-for-word translation.)
An ingenious stage design of sliding panels and screens (by Marcelo Lipiani and Jatahy) sets up a warren of different playing areas, one room discretely giving way to another as Rodrigo Marçal’s music drives the action with a playful yet somberly insistent blend of acoustic piano and strings.
A cameraman (Paulo Camacho) follows the two performers, Julia Bernat (who plays Julia) and Rodrigo dos Santos (who plays the unnamed chauffeur), as they dance outside, flirt in the pool, drink some beer and wine in the modern kitchen and wonder how they’re going to recover any sense of normalcy in their lives after making heated love in a house in which the hired help are always watching.
The cook (Tatiana Tiburcio, appearing only on film) is especially furious at this breach of propriety. She can’t countenance working for a mistress who acts like a nymphomaniac with the staff. (Her own relationship to the good-lucking driver adds a sharp edge to her moralizing.)
The sex scene between Julia and the chauffeur is boldly presented. While Strindberg leaves the sex to the audience’s imagination, Jatahy, who wrote and directed the adaptation, incorporates much of the original post-coital dialogue into the characters’ dirty talk.
Jatahy begins with a more or less straightforward reworking of the original before chipping way at the fourth wall to interrogate what it means to revisit “Miss Julie” from her cultural and historical vantage. This starts off gently with the onstage cameraman saying “cut” after a significant moment. But as the crisis grows more intense for the characters, the performers step out of their roles to share their harried thoughts.
At one point, the actress playing Julia, not wanting to reach the suicidal finish line, runs offstage and into the Walt Disney Concert Hall parking structure. Dos Santos, who feels compelled to complete the drama as originally written, eventually retrieves Bernat outside on 2nd Street and lures her back inside the theater.
Los Angeles Times photographers document the year in arts and culture.(Los Angeles Times)
When the Mariinsky Ballet performed “Cinderella” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 8, even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn’t bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority. Read more >>(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins leaves a rehearsal of his play “Appropriate,” opening Oct. 4 at the Mark Taper Forum, to eat first with a reporter, then later with his agent and some unspecified Hollywood people, who presumably hope to lure him away from the field and city where he has experienced meteoric success in the last five years. Read more >>(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kerstin Anderson takes charge of Maria von Trapp with a spirit so joyful, a physicality so lithe and coltish, and a soprano so flawlessly soaring that only Frau Schraeder, Capt. Von Trapp’s jilted fiancée (Teri Hansen), could possibly resist her charm. Read the Oct. 1 review >>(Los Angeles Times)
Soprano Abigail Fischer performs Oct. 7 in the opera “Songs from the Uproar” at REDCAT in Los Angeles.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent,” which played at the Mark Taper Forum, opening on July 26, renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity. Read review >>(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Malaviki Sarukkai performing at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on July 19, 2015. Sarukkai is the best-known exponent of South Indian classical dance.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Bramwell Tovey conducts the L.A. Phil with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14, 2015.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Argentine dancer Herman Cornejo performs in the West Coast premiere of “Tango y Yo” as part of the Latin portion of BalletNow.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jake Shears plays Greta in Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Aug. 23, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers rehearse a one-night-only performance choregraphed by Raiford Rogers, one of L.A.'s most-noted choreographers. This year the dance will be to a new original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley in Los Angeles on July 9, 2015.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Mia Sinclair Jenness, left, Mabel Tyler and Gabby Gutierrez alternate playing the title role in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre. The three are shown during a day at Santa Monica Pier on June 16, 2015.(Christina House / For The Times)
American Contemporary Ballet Company members Zsolt Banki and Cleo Magill perform a dance routine originally done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This performance was presented as part of "Music + Dance: L.A.” on Friday, June 19, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Miguel, a Grammy-winning guitarist, producer, singer and lyricist, is photographed in San Pedro on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. His new album "Wildheart,” explores L.A.'s “weird mix of hope and desperation.”(Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of “The Next Hot Line.” This piece is part of his show “Scorched Earth,” installed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, June 11, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Opera concluded its season with “The Marriage of Figaro,” with Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro and Pretty Yende as Susanna, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
“Trinket,” a monumental installation by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, features an American flag that is 16 feet tall and 45 feet long. The work is on display at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through June 28.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Knox, from left, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim and Paige Lindsey White in “Pygmalion” in spring 2015 at the Pasadena Playhouse.(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
On March 17, Google celebrated the addition of more than 5,000 images to its Google Street Art project with a launch party at the Container Yard in downtown Los Angeles.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Ric Salinas, left, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, of the three-man Latino theater group Culture Clash, brought their “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival” to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to mark the group’s 30th anniversary. The play ran from Feb. 4 through March 1.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Jatahy’s interest in the content of the play is ultimately matched by her fascination with the play’s status as a cultural artifact. This is a natural development of reckoning with this landmark work of modern drama.
In “Miss Julie,” Strindberg formulated a new approach to character, scenic design and plot by tapping into late 19th century developments in psychology, economics, biology, aesthetics and philosophy. The playwright’s aim, as expressed in his brilliant preface to the play, was “to modernize the form” according to what he believed were “the demands a contemporary audience would make of this art.”
Jatahy follows suit in her rethinking of the meaning of naturalism for 21st century theatergoers. (Her canny use of film allows her to challenge assumptions of what is real onstage.) She brings a racial dimension to the struggle of the characters (the servants are black) and updates the terms of the gender battle, which, while far from over, is not what it was in 19th century Sweden.
But the success of this production hinges on the moment-to-moment precision of Bernat and Dos Santos, both of whom bring flavorful specificity to their characterizations. Their passion hits like a summer storm, and the actors seem by the end as devastated by the impact as their characters.
Their work is so authentic that in the famous scene in which Julia’s bird is slaughtered by her servant, the fiction is interrupted to assure the audience that the creature wasn’t at all harmed. It’s one of the many original touches that enable Jatahy to reinvent this naturalistic tragedy for a new age.
Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sundays
Info: (213) 237-2800, www.redcat.org
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes