When done well, “Miss Julie” is a harrowing look at the class war. And when it’s done really well — as it is at the Lincoln Center Festival, where it opened Monday— it’s absolutely blistering.
In this import from Moscow’s State Theatre of Nations, performed with English surtitles, director Thomas Ostermeier and adapter Mikhail Durnenkov have transposed August Strindberg’s 1889 classic to contemporary Russia.
Julie (the willowy Chulpan Khamatova) is now the daughter of an oligarch rather than a count. There’s a wild party going on at the family home on New Year’s Eve, but she prefers spending the night in the huge stainless-steel kitchen, cozying up to the driver, Jean (Evgeny Mironov).
Julie is such a spoiled brat — making the cook Christine (Julia Peresild) prepare chicken stock from scratch so she can feed it to her dog — that seducing a chauffeur is just one more way to play bad girl. You get the sense she’s desperately looking for escape, too. As for Jean, he is both attracted and repelled, especially since his lowly status has given him a huge chip on his shoulder.
When Jean and Julie finally retreat to another room to have sex, the revelers take over the kitchen, indulging in a techno-fueled bacchanal that pretty much wrecks the place.
Nothing’s the same after that seduction. Julie is stunned by what she’s done, and Jean turns on her — calling her a “mixed-up heifer” and “disgusting rat” by way of post-coital sweet nothings. Julie’s hopes are crushed.
Ostermeier is a genius at rejuvenating old plays — back in 2004, he gave us a brilliant take on “A Doll’s House” at BAM. Here he uses every trick he can think of — loud music, video projections, a rotating set — and it works. He also demands extremely physical performances from his cast. Khamatova’s Julie gets the worst of it: At one point, Jean stuffs her into the freezer.
It’s tough to watch, but intensely rewarding and supremely topical. Men versus women, rich versus poor: It just doesn’t get old, does it?