Tag Archives: strindberg

Common Ancestor: ‘Miss Julia’ at Encuentro 2017

Miss Julia by Vueltas Bravas

Gina Jaimes and Jhon Alex Toro in ‘Miss Julia’. Photo by Federico Rios courtesy Vueltas Bravas Producciones

With ‘Dance of Death’ still running at the Odyssey, Encuentro de las Américas 2017 brings another Strindberg to Southern California.   Vueltas Bravas Producciones slices, dices, transposes, and dances the battles of wills and wiles in the foundational ‘Miss Julie’ as adapted by J. Ed Araiza.  Nineteenth century Sweden gives way to twenty first century Colombia where wealthy,  nutty, and bored-out-of-her-gourd Miss Julia (Tina Thurman*) forces herself on  servant Juan (Jhon Alex Toro).   The casual hookup has not percolated to this part of South America and there are emotional attachments and expectations a-plenty.  Julia sees Juan as a way out, he sees her as a way up, and his fiancée Cristina (Gina Jaimes) isn’t having any of it.

The audience surrounds the  narrow alley of a set (Andrew Thurman)  nicely conveying the claustrophobic society in which the hapless characters are embedded.   Thurman is outfitted as a  cross between Miss Havisham and a hapless ballerina.  Her Spanish, sounding more learned than native, adds a hint of North and South American political tension to the more obvious class and power struggle.  Jaimes’s Cristina is both earthy and mesmerizing as Juan’s social equal and moral superior.  She spends a good part of the show asleep or sleepwalking.  This is a shame as she commands the stage when on it and she and Toro have  palpable chemistry.

This is highly physical theatre with  movement, dance, and symbolic props all adding their dimensions while condensing the story.  A wheeled table serves pre-show rum and also serves as the cursed magic carpet taking these broken souls to their fates.  Julia is frenetic and angular in marked contrast to the sweeping and fluid Juan and Cristina.   All switch seamlessly between English and Spanish with dim supertitles available to the eagle-eyed monolingual.  Helen Yee (violin),  a fine but uncredited percussionist, and a Mac notebook add off-stage sonic color although the balance sometimes overpowered the small space.

Miss Julia by Vueltas Bravas

Tina Thurman and Jhon Alex Toro. Photo by Federico Rios courtesy Vueltas Bravas Producciones

If this all sounds oddly familiar it is because it is the kind of work that Tina Kronis and Richard Alger have been doing at Theatre Movement Bazaar for  twenty years.  Wheeled furniture and athleticism also feature prominently in La Razón Blindada soon to be up at this same festival.   ‘Miss Julie’ is said to be  about social Darwinism – the replacement of a weak, stagnant, older order by a vigorous, aspirational, newer one.  So, we may well ask if there’s a last common ancestor to this style of work.  Vueltas Bravas does not have much of a web presence but the Australian Thurman (here identified as  Mitchell) explains in a Youtube video their origins at a SITI Workshop in New York City some ten years prior.  ‘Miss Julia’ is making the rounds of the festival circuit having played at La MaMa and the Chicago International Latino Theatre Festival prior to its Los Angeles engagement.   Kronis and Alger are said to have some SITI influence to their work as well.  ‘Miss Julia’ is well-made, well-performed, and enjoyable but if the purpose of the festival is to bring new and distinct theatrical viewpoints (ha!) and styles to the forefront, it is jarring to hear Latino voices filtered first through a canonical text and then through a U.S. theatrical school of thought.

Nota bene:  Many of the Encuentro productions are performed without intermission. ‘Miss Julia’ is one of them and clocked in at about one hour.  Those interested in festival productions should consider seeing multiple productions in a day to take advantage of ticket packages as well as to minimize ticketing fees and the notoriously larcenous downtown parking lots.

*Credited as Tina Thurman in the program, Tina Mitchell elsewhere on the Web

Miss Julia
Vueltas Bravas Producciones
Directed by Lorenzo Montanini
Through 19 November at the Encuentro de las Américas Festival
Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA
Six performances remaining through 19 November 2017
Tickets: $44 general,  $22 Seniors/students/veterans
See website for times and online ticketing

 

Corner of Rose and Bundy: ‘Dance of Death’ at The Odyssey

When a grim year gets grimmer with no end in sight,  those down-in-the-mouth over the decaying state of things can look to the arts for a pick-me-up.  Pinter, Beckett, Kane… all can offer a glimmer of hope of a better world than our present one.  Add Strindberg to this list and visit ‘Dance of Death’ now at The Odyssey in West L.A. until 19 November.   Empty nesters Alice and Edgar live in isolation on a small, unnamed Scandinavian island awaiting their silver  wedding anniversary.  He is a minor military man, detesting all and detested by all in return.  She is much younger, having given up a go-nowhere acting career to marry him.   Two children and a life together did nothing to brighten twenty-five years of unrelenting mutual hatred.

Conor McPherson‘s 2012 adaptation reduces Strindberg’s original cast to three and a chess match begins immediately.  Aging, ailing Edgar (Darrell Larson) and youthful, seething Alice (Lizzy Kimball) aren’t grandmasters but two nonetheless very effective opponents who know each other’s tactics and always have a nasty countermove at the ready.  The relentless, active stalemate needs a stimulus and into this domestic prison – their house used to be one – drops her cousin Kurt (Jeff LeBeau).  This poor sap  brought the two together under duress in the distant past and becomes both a means to and an object of revenge, played for savagery and for keeps.

Edgar takes the chaotic route – alternately hale and sickly, a dancing Boyar one moment and bedridden  the next.  Alice is consistent, methodical, focussed.  Kurt comes into this house of heartbreak composed and kind and later  finds that both have and continue to conspire to his ruin.  Ron Sossi’s brisk and mostly effective staging mines ores of deep, dark, Vantablack humor in the otherwise bleak script. Christopher Scott Murillo’s set, simultaneously spacious and claustrophobic,  frames intrinsic contrasts of the story.   Despite some residual signs of jelling, the audience is slowly pulled in, supporting and sympathizing with whichever character holds the floor at the moment.  We, like Kurt, are played like a cigar-box banjo.

This is the play said to have inspired Albee’s George and Martha.  One wonders if it similarly inspired the creators of ‘Married With Children’ and the ‘War of the Roses.’  Al and Peg, and Oliver and Barbara equally delight in childish games of control expressed  vividly and physically.  Divorce is obvious and available but far too easy.  Neither wants the other to be free, let alone happy, and all bystanders are in play.   This is of  course not limited to  fiction.  The arts  teach us much including that there’s usually something lurking under even the most banal situation.  There’s usually some benefit to being aware of it if not for advancement at least for self-preservation.  ‘Go placidly amid the noise and waste’ says Deteriorata, ‘And remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.’  As such ‘Dance’ does double duty.  Fine entertainment on its surface and instruction between the lines.

Dance of Death
by August Strindberg, adapted by Conor McPherson
directed by Ron Sossi
The Odyssey Theatre

Regular Performances
September 23 – November 19
Visit the show webpage for dates and times

Online tickets through Ovationtix
or via the Box Office 310-477-2055 EXT. 2

Box Office Hours
Wed/Thurs – 1pm – 6pm or curtain
Fri/Sat – 1pm – 8pm
Sunday – 12pm – 4pm