On the heels of her Emerging Artist Ivey Award win, Anna Sundberg was good but, I thought, miscast in Walking Shadow Theatre Company’s reasons to be pretty. If you really want to see what Sundberg can do, hasten to grab one of the few remaining tickets to Gremlin Theatre’s production of After Miss Julie at the James J. Hill House.
Yes, at the James J. Hill House. Specifically, in the kitchen thereof. It’s the perfect setting for this play about hanky-panky in the pantry, and it puts the audience at close range to this intense drama enacted by a superb cast under the direction of Leah Cooper.
Patrick Marber’s 1995 play is an adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 classic Miss Julie, moving the events to a British manor house in 1945. Valet John (Peter Christian Hansen) and his fianceé, housekeeper Christine (Amanda Whisner), are chuckling and romancing in the kitchen while the moneyed class celebrates the landslide victory of the Labour Party with a party upstairs. The servants’ private party is interrupted by a visit from Miss Julie (Sundberg), the manor lord’s flirtatious daughter who seems to have an itch—in keeping with her socialist politics—to get down-and-dirty with her underlings.
Marber’s script is compelling though not efficient—especially for those of us in the standing-room section, the short (under 90 minutes) play starts to feel long as the characters loose every last arrow in their emotional quivers. Marber’s subsequent play Closer (1997) also deals with lust and infidelity, but cuts much nearer to the bone. Still, there are many sharp moments in this play, and Sundberg, Hansen, and Whisner make the most of them with performances that are among the strongest I’ve seen anywhere this year.
Sundberg has a gift for portraying both lust and vulnerability, and she’s at her best embodying the mercurial Miss Julie. The roguish Hansen, for his part, nails the alternating pride and shame of his character: always the groomer, never the groom. And Whisner, an accomplished and busy actress whose previous shows I’ve somehow managed to completely miss, feels absolutely authentic as a woman whose patience is rapidly approaching the fine line between infinite and merely near-infinite. Perhaps most impressively, with the help of dialect coach Patrick Bailey, all three manage convincing and consistent class- and region-specific British accents.
If you’ve forgotten why you love live theater, After Miss Julie is a production that will help you remember. Don’t miss it.
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Correction: Due to an error in the printed program, this article originally stated, erroneously, that the name of the dialect coach was Patrick Coyle rather than Patrick Bailey.