August Strindberg wrote in his preface to this play: "I do not believe ... in simple stage characters; and the summary judgments of authors -- this man is stupid, that one brutal, ... and so forth -- should be challenged by the Naturalists who know the richness of the soul complex." He also said, "Miss Julie is a modern character, not that the half-woman, the man-hater, has not existed always." These contradictions can make Strindberg remote to contemporary audiences, but despite the seeming put-downs, the playwright created an enthralling, fascinating character in Miss Julie. Women in Time Productions and director Sacha Reich are surprisingly successful with this challenging script. The actors are all solid, with clear objectives and motives, but Reich doesn't always knit them together well. (She can't do anything with Strindberg's slightly ridiculous greenfinch either -- but can anyone?) Anna Maria Luera is very good as Kristin, comfortable in her conventionality, but Ron Obregon as the ambitious Jean is often too emotional when he should be calmer. Jennifer Wagner as Julie does some amazing work, but she doesn't go far enough -- you never feel her life is at stake. There are some lovely interludes -- when Jean kisses Julie's foot, he caresses her ankle; when Julie fatefully goes into Jean's room, the lovers waltz behind a scrim. The Mexican setting and music add race as well as class to the mixture, and Alison Tassie's simple set and elaborate props are wonderful. WIT and Reich do a credible, honorable job with this play, even though they don't fully bring it to life and let it break our hearts.
The first act of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at the Exit Theater has a marvelous, edgy sense of possibility. Jesse Caldwell as the garrulous elderly bum Mack Davies yammers hilariously at the silent young Aston (John Ficarra), who ignores him and fixes a toaster. Aston has brought the old man to his derelict apartment after saving him from a brawl in some neighboring London cafeteria. The apartment is piled with newspapers, poster rolls, crates, a hose, rugs, a ladder, and part of a naked mannequin. It doesn't, strictly, belong to Aston: He shares it with his brother, which is confusing for poor Davies, because no one explains it to him and because the brother, Mick, is a bloody arsehole. He's a nattily dressed young proto-mod, played with flair by Neil Howard, who fluctuates between smiling and sweet and viciously violent. The awkward setup, the silences, the social tensions, and the strange eruptions of viciousness are all what a Pinter play was meant to be. Ficarra, too, gives an excellent halting speech as Aston about why he's so peculiar. However, since it's a Pinter play, it's also rather sterile, and the story of a stranger who comes to spend the night but stays on as an uninvited guest -- no matter how symbolic, no matter how well-performed -- just can't be interesting for a solid three hours.