After Miss Julie

Broadway, Dramatic Play

Location: American Airlines Theatre

Jonny Lee Miller and Sienna Miller in After Miss Julie.  Photo by Joan Marcus.

BOTTOM LINE: It hurts me a little to say that I didn't like this.  It had bold choices but lacked support.  An interesting adaptation but the production is missing something.

The Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Patrick Marber's After Miss Julie at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway is...different. Marber's retelling of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's Miss Julie, a play about sex and class, is set in a country house in England on the night of the Labour Party's landslide victory in 1945. A groundbreaking work, the original Miss Julie was heavily censored. I suppose the only way to make a one-hundred-twenty-year-old play that was shocking for its time, shocking for this time is to take some risks. With a sadomasochistic flair, director Mark Brokaw certainly makes some bold moves...moves that his actors do a respectable job executing. If you're going to make some bold moves, may as well do them on Broadway.  

There is something utterly charismatic about Sienna Miller who plays Miss Julie.  Even though I was not in love with her portrayal of Miss Julie, I certainly appreciate the talent that this woman has, her clear commitment to the role, and her natural likability. The performance itself however, seemed to waver a bit. Marber's adaptation really grapples with the psychology of the characters, especially that of Miss Julie and John, played by Jonny Lee Miller. Unfortunately, S. Miller fell short of making her character identifiable. She does a nice job of toying with her sensuality and of playing the spoiled socialite card but when Miss Julie's sanity teeters, S. Miller teeters just a little too much and leaves the audience behind.  If seeing someone play unstable and turn on a "crazy" dime is your cup of tea, then you'll be impressed. She does so with full commitment. If you prefer however, to see the wheels turning and truly empathize with someone in a predicament that makes one do crazy things or if you prefer the type of characterization that gets you to root for the bad guy against your better judgement, then S. Miller misses the mark.  

Time for me to point out the elephant in the room. I really wanted to like S. Miller's performance. What with her very public ex, Jude Law performing down the street in Hamlet (come now, we all remember "Nannygate," to quote Ms. Miller, don't we?) and with him doing such a stellar job, I wanted her to blow my socks off. She didn't...although she definitely brought sex and a sense of likability to a very difficult-to-like character and proved that she has some acting chops. I can't help but feel that I'd like to see her play the role again in a few years. The only problem with that is Brokaw along with casting director Jim Carnahan explicitly wanted S. Miller for the role precisely for her youth. In both Marber's and Strindberg's scripts, Miss Julie is 25 years old. Carnahan shared in an interview with Vogue Magazine that they wanted to cast someone who was believably beautiful and young but a strong actress. (Frankly, I think an actress in her early 30's could appear just as young as the 27-year-old actress and the few added years of wisdom and deeper understanding of life would only add to the performance, but I digress...)

Costar J.L. Miller successfully takes the audience with him on his ride to insanity and poor decisions. When John declares his love for Miss Julie we believe him. When he takes it back we know he is defending himself or fooling himself, either one. Regardless, we feel for him.  He cheats on his fiancee and yet we feel bad for him when Miss Julie toys with him. J.L. Miller humanizes his character so when John makes crazy decisions we, as the audience, get it - or at least we remain in the world of the play even if we don't understand why John does what he does (the only exception being the bizarre sixty-second pseudo-rape scenario toward the end of the play - I have no idea what that was - but now we are talking about direction).  Spoiler Alert: If you are absolutely dying to see this play regardless of what I or any other reviewer say you may want to skip the next paragraph, I'm about to ruin another surprise.

After Miss Julie and John engage in their affair, they decide to run away with each other to America. She wants to bring her bird. John thinks that's a bad idea. Since she can't bring her pet, she orders John to kill it. He does and then...are you ready for this?  She smears the dead bird's bloody stump all over John's face. Crickets anyone? Yeah, well that was the sound in the theatre too. Except maybe for my outburst of "Whaaat?" It definitely took me out of the world of the play. If that business is indeed written into the play by Marber, there has got to be a way to do it that makes one think, "What's wrong with this crazy Miss Julie? She's F-ed up." Instead I was taken completely out of the play and thought, "What was that about?"  If Brokaw's intention was simply to shock, or maybe it was to jar the audience out of the play for some reason, then he succeeded.  

Lastly, Marin Ireland, who plays Christine, the wronged fiancee and servant, does a fine acting job. The scene where she discovers Miss Julie and John presumably having sex is wonderful, in no small part because the entire scene is done in silence. That being said, Ireland's accent is no bueno. I'm sorry, I can't let it slide. It's a shame because it's distracting and otherwise, she is a brilliant actress. Again, a situation where I really wanted to love the actress's performance. She did such expert work in Reasons To Be Pretty (for which Ireland was nominated for a Tony). I was even willing to invent an excuse for her: maybe Christine is from The Borders? (The people from the border area between Scotland and England are notorious for a garbled dialect.) In the end, the muddled accent was just a little too distracting.

I really wanted to like After Miss Julie. The poster is sexy, Sienna Miller is sexy, Jonny Lee Miller is sexy, Brokaw is a daring director, Marber has a reputation for creating delicious characters in difficult, sexually taboo situations (he wrote Closer and Notes On A Scandal), it's a story about a steamy love affair, a night that never should have happened. What's not to like about this? It sounds like a recipe for dramatic success. Unfortunately, this production just doesn't deliver. If you frequent the theatre, it's worth a discounted ticket but if you're saving up to see only one Broadway show this may want to weigh your options.

(After Miss Julie plays at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway (227 West 42nd Street). This is a limited engagement through December 6th, 2009. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm with matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Performances will be at 7pm October 27 through November 6. It has a run time of 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $66.50-$111.50 and are available through Roundabout Ticket Services, call 212-719-1300 or visit