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Miss Julie, Clarissa and John
By Mark Clayton Southers
Directed by Andrea Frye
The Black Rep
September 10, 2016

Alicia Reve' Like, Laurie McConnell Photo by Philip Hamer The Black Rep

Alicia Reve’ Like, Laurie McConnell
Photo by Philip Hamer
The Black Rep

Miss Julie, Clarissa and John is the opener for the newest season at the Black Rep. It’s playwright Mark Clayton Southers’s re-imagining of August Strindberg’s classic play Miss Julie, changing the setting to the Southern United States during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. As portrayed in this intense, extremely well-cast production at the Black Rep, tensions are high between servants at a plantation and the owner’s daughter. It’s a sharp, richly characterized portrayal of racial and class tensions as well as personal dynamics between the characters.

On a large Virginia plantation in the 1880s, Clarissa (Alicia Reve’ Like) is a cook for the plantation’s owner. She lives with her fiance’, fellow servant and former slave John (Eric J. Conners). They have an uneasy relationship with the owner’s daughter, Miss Julie (Laurie McConnell), who has lived an entitled existence but struggles to live up to the expectations of her family and society. That uneasiness doesn’t stop her from exerting her considerable influence on John, with whom she engages in a manipulative flirtation. In the midst of this stands Clarissa, who is haunted by her own traumatic upbringing and the disappearance of her beloved mother, who had been a slave at the plantation as well. The mystery of what happened to Clarissa’s mother and the connection between this situation and Miss Julie herself is a key element of the plot, leading to much of the intense drama that builds gradually throughout the play and then explodes in Act 2.

The casting here is key, and all three players are excellent. Like, as Clarissa, is a particular standout as she portrays all the aspects of the character’s emotional journey with raw and intense honesty. Her search for answers regarding her mother, and her wariness of Miss Julie and real but reserved affection for John are all clearly on display here in Like’s richly complex performance. McConnell, as Miss Julie, tackles the difficult role with a great deal of depth, as well. As someone who has learned to exploit her position to get ahead, she could easily be a cardboard villain, but although she’s not particularly sympathetic most of the time, McConnell does an excellent job of conveying Miss Julie’s own complicated history and struggle with emotions of jealousy and the conflicting issues of powerlessness and need to exert power over both Clarissa and John in different ways. As John, Conners ably portrays his attachment and loyalty to Clarissa as well as his combined suspicion of and fascination with Miss Julie. The interactions between all three performers are intensely charged.

The time, place, and tone are well realized in Jim Burwinkel’s authentically detailed set and Jennifer (J. C.) Krajicek’s meticulously detailed costumes. The lighting, designed by Kathy Perkins, effectively augments the drama as well. The Edison Theatre can be a difficult venue in terms of sound, but this production is very clear and audible, and the staging is crisp and energetic.

There are a lot of issues in this play, some overarching and most highly personal. With all three characters having their own particular struggles, as well as the struggle to live in the highly restrictive and oppressive society in which they were born, Miss Julie, Clarissa and John is a highly emotional, at times disturbingly intense production that is sure to make audiences think. It’s an excellent showcase for this superb cast, and a memorable start to what promises to be an exciting season at the Black Rep.

Eric J Conners, Alicia Reve' Like Photo by Phillip Hamer The Black Rep

Eric J Conners, Alicia Reve’ Like
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep

The Black Rep is presenting Miss Julie, Clarissa and John at Washington University’s Edison Theatre until September 25, 2016.

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