“Do I shock you?” Julie asks her father’s valet, John. “Not as much as you’d like to,” John replies. It’s a good line—one of many sharp turns of phrase—but it’s also a bit meta in Patrick Marber’s 2004 adaptation of August Strindberg’s alienating 1888 drama.
Marber, the British playwright best known on this side of the pond for 1997’s Closer (another piece set at the intersection of danger and desire), shifts Strindberg’s scandalous sex and class politics from 19th-century Sweden to mid-20th-century England: specifically 1945, just after the end of World War II and on the night of the Labour Party’s landslide defeat of Winston Churchill. It’s a smart frame for rebellious, neurotic Julie’s flirtations with the lower class and itch to transgress against her landed-gentry life, and for John to succumb to sudden fantasies of upward mobility.
But Marber’s adaptation is otherwise almost entirely faithful to the histrionic original, beat for beat. Director Elly Green’s cast commits to the material with intensity; there’s real electricity between Maggie Scrantom’s Julie and John Henry Roberts’s John, and Anita Deely brings righteous fire to John’s fellow servant and fiancée Christine, who finds the pair in flagrante delicto. But even they seem reluctant to embrace the most lurid elements of Marber after Strindberg.
Strawdog Theatre Company. By Patrick Marber. Directed by Elly Green. With Maggie Scrantom, John Henry Roberts, Anita Deely. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.