Reg Rogers and Marin Hinkle in Miss Julie(Photo © Sandra Coudert)
Reg Rogers and Marin Hinkle in Miss Julie
(Photo © Sandra Coudert)
A carcass hangs on meat hooks off to the side of the stage; this element of John McDermott's scenic design is most likely meant to invoke the rawness and visceral quality that the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater's production of Miss Julie is aiming for. Using a new adaptation by playwright Craig Lucas, Anders Cato's staging of this August Strindberg classic makes the sexuality of the piece overt, yet there's less passion here than might be expected.

That's not the fault of Lucas; the language of the play feels fresher and more contemporary than in previous translations. While this version is labeled an adaptation, it does not take enormous liberties with Strindberg's original text. Set on Midsummer's Eve and the subsequent morning, Miss Julie tells the story of the the titular character -- a young, vivacious daughter of a count, played here by Marin Hinkle -- who flirts with and allows herself to be seduced by a servant named Jean (Reg Rogers).

Hinkle has a vibrant energy and a sexy demeanor that are wholly appropriate to the character. She's coquettish in Julie's initial interactions with Jean while maintaining an air of easy command. The actress is also adept at showing Julie's conflicted feelings on the morning after her encounter with Jean, particularly in regard to their sexual liaison. We get the feeling that, although the sex wasn't great for her, she clings to ideas of tragic romance that might justify her discomfort.

Unfortunately, Rogers does not bring the same level of commitment to his portrayal. He adopts an affected manner of speaking that could be deemed appropriate for some of the earlier scenes but not for the entire play. Lucas's script seems to emphasize the fact that much of Jean's self-education involved going to the theater, so the "actorish" aspects of Rogers' characterization might be acceptable on that score. But there should be something behind his façade, a passion and drive that motivates Jean to take the chances that he takes. Rogers shows no trace of this; his Jean lacks a strong character arc and, despite a few isolated moments of vigor, his performance is lackluster.

Julia Gibson as Christine, Jean's fiancée and Miss Julie's cook, delivers an uneven performance. She's subtly charming as she takes a moment to place a flower in her hair while Jean is out dancing with Miss Julie at the servants' Midsummer's Eve celebration; but towards the end of the play, when she sits disdainfully in judgment over Julie and Jean's behavior, her portryal comes across as a bit too forced.

Cato's staging hints at the vitality that the director no doubt meant to achieve with this piece. Unlike other productions of Miss Julie that I've seen, the audience actually gets to witness the sexual shenanigans in Jean's room. Dimly lit and glimpsed in brief flashes (the lighting design is by Ed McCarthy), Julie and Jean are seen in various sexual positions as an uncredited actor/stagehand calmly and methodically trashes the kitchen area from which the lovers retreated when they heard the sounds of an offstage crowd coming in to find them.

The original music and sound design of Scott Killian is another disappointment; the crowd never seems real or dangerous. And the compositions heard between scenes, with their ethereal, slightly off-kilter melodies, sound more fitting for an episode of The X-Files than a production of Miss Julie. They're also played at too loud a volume.

The strengths of Miss Julie, with its complicated approach to issues of class and gender, are still apparent. Though this particular production may not be definitive, Lucas's keen adaptation will surely be interpreted by many other directors and actors.