By Elizabeth Ann Foster
From the moment you enter the theatre you have arrived on Freedom Day 2012 in a sparse farmhouse kitchen in Eastern Cape, Karoo, South Africa. Steamy, as mist wafts down from over the stage setting. There on all fours is Christine (Patrice Johnson Chevannes), a domestic worker singing softly as she painstakingly cleans the tiles of a kitchen floor with a rag and bucket of water. Over and over, scrubbing every detail. There are ominous storm sounds in the distance, a harbinger of events to unfold.
Christine, in her 60’s, tries to straighten up and groans, signaling the start of the play as the house lights are lowered.
Her son John (James Udom) enters and begins a beautiful and tender exchange with her over adding salt to his food she’s prepared before he’s tasted it. It is heartwarming to see them interact. John is worried as his mother has been working since dawn and there is no end in sight to her labors. She is worn, tired and uncomfortable. Finally seated, she begins to ruminate about her ancestors buried under the concrete floor.Her current employer built his home over Christine’s ancestral burial grounds. This is why she cleans it so meticulously.
John notices there is a “stink” in the kitchen. Christine tells him that she is cooking for the owners’ dog. “You have to cook for her dog now too?” John asks. Christine explains that the family dog that Julie (Elise Kibler), the owner’s daughter, loves went into heat. None of the pedigree dogs wanted her, but their mutt had gotten to her. The owners want Christine to prepare and feed the dog something to kill the unborn puppies.
This is a premonition of what is to come. Broken dreams, unrequited love, sadness, and tragedy. Patrice Johnson Chevannes’ performance makes it all worthwhile.
Yaël Farber’s adaptation of the classic August Strindberg Miss Julie is both an insightful character portrayal and unrelenting opponent of social mores concomitant to apartheid. It requires a strong cast to sustain 70 minutes of stress and heartache.
Mies Julie–Written by Yaël Farber, adapted from the play Miss Julie by August Strindberg. Directed by Shariffa Ali.
WITH: Elise Kibler (Julie), James Udom (John), Vinie Burrows (Ukhokho), and Patrice Johnson Chevannes (Christine).
Scenic design by David L. Arsenault; costumes by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene and Andrew Moerdyk; lighting design by Stacey Derosier; sound design by Quentin Chiappetta; music by Andrew Orkin; dialect coach Barbara Rubin; fight and intimacy direction by Alicia Rodis and Claire Warden; production stage manager Roxana Khan; assistant stage manager Katelynn Cooper.At the Classic Stage Company, 136 E 13th St, New York, For more information visit classicstage.org or call 212.677.4210. Two 19thcentury plays by August Strindberg are in repertory at CSS, Mies Davis and The Dance of Death.Special Packages to see both shows start at $99. Single tickets ($75 previews, $80 post opening, $125 prime) are currently on sale, and can be purchased at classicstage.org or 212-352-3101(or toll free 866-811-411).Running time 70 minutes