A NEW THEATRE COMPANY!!!! YESSSSS!!! Oh, pardon me was that too loud? In case you don’t know by now I am completely obsessed with theatre, and when a new company comes on the scene my heart leaps… perhaps for no other reason than its existence value; knowing that it is there diversifying our theatre landscape enough to keep things interesting and keep actors busy. I have been awaiting the debut of Fab-Productions (named after its founder, 25 year old Farrukh Altaf Barlas) since they held auditions for Eajmah, to see what they’re all about. Farrukh is from Pakistan so I’m very curious to what influences he may bring to our local scene. Whatever the reasons unfortunately, Eajmah did not make it to the stage, but on 18th December 2014, at the CLR James Auditorium, the company introduced itself to the theatre going public with August Strinberg’s 1888 naturalistic play, “Miss Julie”. It is being directed by local theatre veteran, Errol Sitahal (who apparently is also known for some International films such as Harold & Kumar goes to White Castle 2004 and Escape from Guantanamo Bay 2008– I learned something today) and recent UTT BFA Graduate, Aryana Mohommed.
Now, when going to an existing piece of theatrical work that I am unfamiliar with, I make it a point NOT to do research before going to the show. Why? It is my firm belief that a show should stand on its own and, if the story is told effectively, there would be no need for any prior information. Still, when writing I try to do so from an informed position, so I did some Google-ing last night and learned that the incarnation I witnessed was an adaptation, and I am most pleased to report that the adaptation did not feel like it was obscenely thrown together in a way that insults my intelligence (as I wrote in an earlier review about adaptations). It succeeded at creating a piece of work that would appeal to our local sensibilities without feeling forced and out of place, and that is ALWAYS a good thing, So kudos on the rewrite :).
“In the original story, the play takes place in the kitchen of a Swedish count’s country estate. While the rest of the household enjoys the revels of a midsummer celebration outside, the count’s daughter Julie escapes to the kitchen to engage in a complex game of seduction with Jean, her father’s valet.
For the local production, the story unfolds on Christmas Eve and Julie (played by Rebecca Foster) is the daughter of a wealthy man. She seems in control and wielding the upper hand in her initial interactions with Jean, but as the story develops he assumes a more dominant position and there is some scheming and dealing mixed with love and lust.”
While the play had its moments, the pace was generally sluggish, with too many long pauses to count. One in particular which stands out was when Jean took Miss Julie to the broom closet, lights faded to black, then there was apparently an intermission as the black was uncomfortably long. I know what adults do in broom closets, YOU know what adults do in broom closets, but if it was supposed to be a scene it felt completely empty and if it was supposed to be a transition, I would have appreciated if it was a million times shorter. Even the curtain call was slow and lacked energy – and that is the last impression the audience is left with. I like my curtain calls tight.
Where it came to the story, as told through the acting and other aspects of the stage craft, I can at best describe it as *thinks* watching a new born Gazelle learning to walk- having potential but not quite there yet, occasionally coming across as funny, sometimes uncomfortable but ALWAYS very awkward. Don’t get me wrong, most of the acting was good, but in isolation.
Tishanna Williams- the most seasoned of the cast, last seen in Proscenium Theatre Company’s “The Wiz- A Tribute to Geoffrey Holder” and also known for “God Loves the Fighter” was cast in the supporting role of “Christine” and with her strong stage presence, interpretation and delivery, stole every scene she was in.
Rebecca Foster, who I have never seen or heard of in life, apparently made her stage debut in the title role of “Miss Julie”- Daughter of the much mentioned- but never seen Count of the estate. Her character I will politely describe as strong willed, but whom in informal circles I would more readily refer to as the B word (I know it’s a derogatory term but Miss Julie be trippin’- she has some kinda issues yo. She would see you have a man an still take him and want you to be okay with it). Rebecca showed much earnest as an up and coming actor. I asked myself “but where this young lady come out from just so just so” and I recognized I had an increasing desire to see her in future works. Although some of her lines were lost due to insufficient projection at times, her acting was natural and would have been believable if all her stage time, which was a considerable portion of the play, wasn’t spent with-
Recent UTT BFA Graduate, Vedesh Nath (Jean), whose intonation offered no levels except perhaps in volume alone. His motivations were unclear (what was your objective in the scene) and his choices questionable (his words would say one thing but his body language told a different story), so much so that the manner in which “Jean” related to the other characters, and them to him, felt forced and uncomfortably… awkward. How the characters played off each other in their interpretation and blocking often contradicted the spoken words, was confusing and I honestly could not believe their interactions. It felt as though the actors were performing in isolation and not reacting to what was given at the moment– which dispelled my suspension of disbelief. Yet, to honestly react to what was given, the play would go absolutely nowhere, or at least not in the direction written in the text. It honestly felt like both Jean and Miss Julie were mental cases. The tensions did not feel real enough for me to care about any of the characters and I spent a lot of time watching their back and forth with wrinkled brow, squinted eyes and slightly tilted head. I would give jack his jacket though, since I first saw him in Freedom Road and again in Coups and Calypso, Vedesh has his diction, projection and articulation down pat.
Furthermore, whether it was by poor design, or malfunction on the night in question, the lights did not support what was happening on stage, dimming and focusing almost dramatically at the most-here’s that word again– awkward moments, that made me squint… do the shifty eyes thing… and wonder if there was something deep that I wasn’t getting.. and that was hella… you guessed it, awkward. In fact, I don’t think it needed any variation in the levels or focus except perhaps that fade to the uncomfortably long black out when Jean took Miss Julie to the broom closet (If a black out is needed there at all) and a lighting special at that very last moment in the play.
I’ve heard many directors and theatre practitioners compare making theatre with making a baby- apparently they are metaphorically similar. So FAB-Productions made a baby- an awkward baby named Miss Julie that is still coming to come; but she shows much promise- so I will still recommend that you go see it. You see…
“Theatre is a living thing; it is always changing”
~ Kyle Bishop of NBC’s Smash
and although used too frequently as a cop out in my opinion, opening night is sometimes not without is challenges, so I anticipate and hope that it will improve with successive performances. If you do get around to seeing it, let me know what you thought of it in the comment section below and remember to Subscribe to Break The Proscenium for More Reviews.
Miss Julie continues at the CLR James Auditorium Saturday 20th December 3pm and 8pm, and Sunday 21st December 3pm and 6:30pm.