NY Theater Review By Eric J. Grimm
Four contemporary playwrights take on August Strindberg’s Miss Julie in Scandinavian American Theater Company’s Bastards of Strindberg. The four short plays reimagine the tale of aristocratic Julie, who engages in a power play with servant Jean while his girlfriend Kristin dozes off nearby. Strindberg is notorious for his misogyny and these short plays address it by giving most of the power to the various incarnations of Julie and Kristin. The result is often fairly heavy-handed with over-explanatory dialogue, though one of the plays fulfills the promise of the concept.
Three of the short plays are frequently self referential with characters stepping in and out of the narrative to provide commentary. While there is some variation in how each playwright approaches this concept, it grows tiresome toward the end. The third short play, Dominique Morisseau’s High Powered, goes for a more conventional narrative but also presents the most intriguing adaptation of Strindberg’s work. Darrin (Kwasi Osei), standing in for Jean, is Julie’s black driver who uses his connection to get a job at her father’s company. He lives in the Bronx with his girlfriend Mya (Zenzele Cooper), standing in for Kristin, who is Julie’s dog walker. The two engage in their own power play as they pack up Julie’s Manhattan apartment and find themselves at odds about Darrin’s career shift.
While Morisseau’s dialogue can be a bit too obvious, especially when making frequent references to “the 1%,” she is far more nuanced than her colleagues and affords great opportunities for her cast. Zenzele Cooper is particularly captivating, giving Mya a strong platform to criticize Darrin for not being content with their life and relationship. There are no easy answers in Morisseau’s play, and Mya and Darrin’s complex interaction gives weight to the idea of exploring Strindberg’s work for modern relevance. Its straightforward nature may not make it quite as adventurous as the other works, but its sheer effectiveness will stick with me long after the others have faded from my mind.
Directed by Henning Hegland and Alicia Dhyana House
Written by Dominique Morisseau, David Bar Katz, Andreas Boonstra, and Lina Ekdahl
Featuring Albert Bendix, Zenzele Cooper, Vanessa Johansson, Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz, Rikke Lylloff, Anette Norgaard, Drew O’Kane, Kwasi Osei, and Devin B. Tillman.
Bastards of Strindberg is playing at The Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd St.) from September 2-21. For tickets, call 212-239-6200. www.satcnyc.org