Strindberg Southern Style As The Black Rep Opens With “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John”

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Miss Julie embraces John as Clarissa storms out in “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” at the Black Rep. Photo: Phillip Hamer

Big anniversaries going on all over town with our theatre friends. As we already mentioned, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is celebrating their 50th season and the Black Rep is not far behind- opening their 40th season. Two wonderful milestones. The celebration at the Black Rep is in a retelling of August Strindberg’s 1888 masterpiece “Miss Julie.” This one is also set in 1888 but in the Reconstruction Era in Virginia and called “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John.” This is the Midwest premiere of the play by Mark Clayton Southers.

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Clarissa brushes Miss Julie’s hair during the Black Rep production of “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John.” Photo: Phillip Hamer

Two decades after emancipation, Clarissa and John are still living on the plantation of tobacco grower, Mr. Hodge. His daughter, Miss Julie, is a frequent visitor to Clarissa and John’s home on the plantation as they still cook and tend to chores for the Hodge family. The only problem is, Miss Julie is a bit too friendly with John. He is a learned man and quite strong- two qualities Miss Julie finds irresistible. During the course of the first act, we get hints about the family and their former slaves and the family dog figures prominently in the mix- which leads to the dramatic turn of events in Act II.

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Clarissa embraces John during a tender moment in “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” at the Black Rep. Photo: Phillip Hamer

Eric J Conners is a powerful force as John. He dominates the stage and knows exactly how to play this little cat and mouse game with Miss Julie. Alicia Reve Like is a beautiful but tragic Clarissa. She knows the path these two are going down but she’s upset with Miss Julie and even puts her in her place more than once. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she can only play out the scenario and hope for the best.

Laurie McConnell is the most tragic figure of all- she has had unsuccessful suitors in the past but she is drawn to John. Still clinging to the life when she could lord over John and Clarissa, she finds herself in a series of faux pax and dangerous affections. McConnell has had quite a year on stage ranging from the tragic school teacher dealing with the mother of a dead student in “Gideon’s Knot,” the alcoholic Joanne in “Company” and now the misguided daughter of the manor who is trying to seduce her servant. Give this girl a comedy!

Andrea Frye has directed this clever script of Mark Clayton Southers. Transferring the tragedy of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” to the reconstructed American South is nothing short of brilliant. And Frye’s ¬†precise direction brings out every nuance in this well crafted story. Jim Burwinkel’s set is perfect match to the material and Kathy Perkins’ lighting design adds to the powerful script. Jennifer (J.C.) Krajicek has designed the perfect costumes to show the contrast of characters as well.

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Clarissa drags Miss Julie from the house during the Black Rep’s production of “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John.” Photo: Phillip Hamer

“Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” is powerful theatre, well directed and a splendid cast who exemplifies the quality and longevity of the Black Rep. Congratulations to Ron Himes and the staff at the Black Rep and may we see many, many more successful years. “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” plays at the Black Rep at the Edison Theatre of Washington University through September 25th. Call them at 314-534-3807 or visit theblackrep.org for tickets or more information.

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