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Arts and Entertainment

LaBute's Adaptation of 'Miss Julie' a Major Disappointment

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The thing about doing film remakes is that, aesthetically at least, one should only do them if one has something genuinely new to say about the material or if the original was a diamond in the rough and ripe for improvement. In the theatre world, this same rule holds true for adaptations. Unfortunately, Neil LaBute's current adaptation of August Strindberg's Miss Julie is a lackluster affair, and miscasting in the Geffen Playhouse production hurts it further.

In LaBute's reimagining, the story is set in Long Island just before the Great Depression hits in 1929, when the "haves" are still securely lording it over the "have-nots." Julie (Lily Rabe), the 25-year-old daughter of a well-to-do family, has just had her fiancé break off their wedding engagement, and as the play starts she's partying with the servants while her folks are out of town. As the evening progresses, she flirts intensely with her father's valet, John (Logan Marshall-Green), even though she knows the cook, Kristine (Laura Heisler) is his girlfriend. Julie soon finds she's out of her depth in the real world, where actions have permanent consequences.

Although Rabe is generally a terrific actress, she never seems to connect to her character here. Her performance skips entitled young woman and lands instead upon bored rich cougar, which gives an entirely different and less credible dynamic to the play. Also, I'm not sure if director Jo Bonney and LaBute intend Julie to come off as humorously overwrought at the show's conclusion, but I don't believe Strindberg did.

Marshall-Green succeeds in displaying levels of complexity as John, but his period accent is a bit too reminiscent of Guys and Dolls. Heisler is quite good as the unappreciated Kristine, injured but resilient, but I felt sorry for her having to pretend to be asleep onstage for forty minutes or so.

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Bonney's direction seems unengaged, not bringing much to the party. She might at least have noticed the inappropriate laughs happening in the play's final third, or reined in the accents (Rabe at times seems to be British). LaBute's contribution to this "adaptation" seems miniscule. I glanced at a copy of Strindberg's actual play after the show, and this seems substantially to be the exact same work with almost the same wording. The one thing I know LaBute contributed, the new time and setting, adds nothing of note to the show, and because Strindberg's dialogue largely remains it retains a Swedish flavor that makes the new setting unbelievable. Considering all of the talents involved, this production is a serious disappointment.

"Miss Julie" plays through June 2 at the Geffen Playhouse. Tickets are available online.