Sunday marked the closing performance of the University Players’ production of “Miss Julie”.
The 1888 play written by August Strindberg embodies the characteristics associated with the European theatre naturalistic movement. Works of naturalism, similar to literary realism, make an effort to portray the human condition and situations as they really are.
However, naturalism takes this process one step further: analyzing genetics, social upbringing and other underlying factors that affect one’s everyday life. Naturalistic writers were heavily influenced by Charles Darwin Theory of Evolution, often emphasizing that a character’s death or path in life is unchangeable because of the conditions he or she was born into.
As one may assume, naturalistic works tend to expose the harsher realities of the human condition: racism, sexism, death, poverty, prejudice, etc. “Miss Julie” does exactly that.
The play features three main characters: Jean, a well-read, well educated, highly moral and respectful valet, played by junior Conor Hurley; Christine, the cook who is supposedly engaged to Jean, played by first year student Reilly Charles; and Miss Julie, played by Victoria Kusy, an aristocratic, seemingly mentally unstable woman whose home Christine and Jean work in.
When the play begins on Midsummers Eve, the longest night of the summer, word has spread in Denmark that Miss Julie attempted to train her fiance like an animal, insisting on living through a promise she made to her mother: she will never be a slave to a man, but a man will be a slave to her.
This ideal is at the root of all of Miss Julie’s actions and ultimately causes her fiance to call off the engagement.
Miss Julie acts out rather irrationally when the engagement is annulled, demanding Jean to dance with her and kiss her feet. The passionate relationship between the two heightens rapidly as the night progresses, resulting in Miss Julie’s demand for Jean and her to run away together.
Miss Julie even pleads Christine to join them, but Christine declines, laughing at the mere thought of fleeing with her.
As the play continues, the audience learns of Miss Julie’s hatred for the life she is living. She hates being the Count’s daughter and wishes she could even switch places with her valet Jean, causing her to believe she is romantically interested in him.
Her father never raised her properly and her mother hated men, so it is no surprise that Miss Julie grew up to be the rambunctious, wild young woman she is. This is where naturalism comes into play (no pun intended).
Miss Julie’s personality and overall unhappiness is rooted in her social class and familial upbringing, two inescapable facets of her life.
When Jean realizes Miss Julie will never be the young woman she aspires to be or live the simpler life she desires, he proposes only one solution: suicide.
“Miss Julie, ” seemingly light hearted at first, quickly turns into a harsh outlook on human nature. Miss Julie’s distress assures the audience that no matter how hard one tries, one cannot escape the situations they’re born into. In order to survive, one must work with the environment around them.
The Players never cease to amaze me, and the University community with their hard work, dedication and most importantly, their talent in every production they bring to the stage.