Turning the Tables
Marywood stages misogynist classic with feminist edge
Even if you’ve seen August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, you haven’t seen the adaptation playing at the Sette LaVerghetta Center this weekend.
Marywood University Director of Theatre Barbara Blackledge considered more than 15 different adaptations of the 1888 play about an aristocrat who tragically succumbs to a sexual liason with an ambitious servant before selecting Penny Penniston’s 2012 update.
“You are most definitely NOT getting Strindberg’s play in this production,” Blackledge writes in her program notes.
The dilemma of whether to admire a badly behaved artist or athlete for their talent separate from their sins is not new to modern tabloid age. Swedish dramatist August Strindberg wrote more than 60 plays in the late 19th century and is a crucial figure in theatre history as an innovator of the naturalist style, weaving realistic action and dialogue with expressionist and surrealist threads.
“Our inquiring minds are no longer satisfied with simply seeing something happen. We want to know how it happens,” he wrote in his landmark preface to Miss Julie in 1888.
Strindberg’s legacy is also that of a cranky misogynist.
In that same preface he complains about the degenerate “half-woman” who “thrusts herself forward and sells herself … for power” and will fortunately perish when her hopes of attaining equality with men are crushed.
Strindberg’s hatred of women is notoriously a personal one, based on his own unpleasant experiences and disappointments. Despite his condemnation of women as stunted and inferior, he gives Julie a remarkable complexity. It is, ironically, dimension not given to so many of the female characters we’ve seen in recent decades who exist only as objects of sexual gratification for the male hero.
Penniston disapproves of Strindberg’s attitude, but it is not a desire for revenge that motivates her revision of his play.
“I found it incredible that Julie should so thoroughly abdicate her will power and then so desperately hand that power over to Jean,” she writes in her own introduction.
“I’d been searching the script for the cause of Julie’s mental collapse — the thing that made her fall to pieces despite her sharp mind and her iron will. But for Strindberg, Julie falls apart because of those things, not despite them.”
Given a 21st century audience that does not believe women are “inherently feeble-minded,” new justifications must be constructed if the play’s action and its characters are to be plausible.
“I sought to preserve as much of the original story as possible, while, at the same time, digging out the archaic underpinnings and replacing them with something more contemporary. The major events of the play are basically the same, but the psychology which drives those events has been rewritten,” Penniston explains.
Miss Julie will be performed free of charge at the Sette LaVerghetta for Performing Arts at Marywood University on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8-9 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. Call 348-6268 or visit www.marywood.edu for more information.