To call Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company’s current production an adaption would be a disservice because the world premiere of “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” is much more than that.
Mark Clayton Southers, Playwrights founder and artistic director, uses the framework provided by August Strinberg’s 1888 classic play, Miss Julie”” and creates a tableau the sets the play on a plantation in the Reconstructionist South. The changes add a new dimension to the original play, set on the estate of a Swedish Count, with class and gender conflicts and a distraught women trying to hold on to whatever remains of the antebellum era.
Miss Julie is the plantation owner’s daughter, a textbook definition of White privilege. Although the Civil War is a memory, the social status is such that Miss Julie never hesitates to place it on display and exploit. Perhaps the change in the way of life has affected her judgment and the choices she makes without regard of the consequences. Or the impending death of her father and her obligation to continue the family legacy of the tobacco cash crop.
John, a butler, is an oak tree of man, and the object of Julie’s desire. He does his best to sidestep her amorous advances and avoid the inevitable. John’s object of affection is the fair-skinned Clarissa, who harbors an emptiness borne of her mother’s absence.
Southers has wisely crafted a play that keeps you on the edge of your seat and adds much needed levity to this dark story. The cast is comprised of the crème of Pittsburgh’s theatrical crop. As Julie, Tami Dixon makes the most of the opportunity to work through a range of emotions to show the warped mind that fuels her machinations. Kevin Brown treads a fine line in dodging Miss Julie’s none too subtle lusty preoccupation. Chrystal Bates brings the unsettled complexities of a woman who misses her absent mother and has conclusions regarding the man who is her father.
Monteze Freeland uses a deft hand in making sure the talent doesn’t become overkill. A fourth character of this play would be the rustic set by Tony Ferrieri lending more authenticity as do the costumes by wardrobe wizard Cheryl El Walker. Sound designer Mark Whitehead and lighting technician Marti Williams continue their solid ways of adding to the magic.
Miss Julie, Clarissa and John continues through April 2, 2016 at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company, 937 Liberty Avenue, Third Floor, in The Cultural District. Performances are 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. Saturday matinees and 3p.m. on Sunday. The final weekend performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and there will be a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Ticket prices for the final weekend are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. For group rates or additional information, call 412-687-4686.