MISS JULIE, Court Theatre. Productions at Court Theatre have traditionally been decently acted, intelligently directed, and just a wee bit stodgy. You might expect a solid, somewhat stolid exhuming of an embalmed classic like Strindberg’s Miss Julie, so the tense, gripping dramatic explosion director Carmen Roman has ignited on Court’s stage comes as quite a surprise.

You could quibble with Truda Stockenstrom’s new translation of Strindberg’s drama, about the genteel Miss Julie’s tragic philanderings with her father’s valet Jean. Stockenstrom relies more on raw slang than on poetry, and her decision to change the play’s setting from Sweden to Minnesota seems historically dubious. But it’s difficult to quarrel with the ferocity of the performances, as Roman unleashes the actors’ energy to drive home Strindberg’s views on the immutability of class distinctions.

Kate Collins displays more range as Miss Julie than some actors do over an entire career. Switching moment by moment from petulant child to brutal mistress to lonely waif to borderline schizophrenic, Collins gives a memorable performance marred only by excessive flailing. Johnny Lee Davenport’s cultivated valet is every bit as complex and mercurial, demonstrating both forceful anger and nervous timidity. Tanya White’s self-assured, subtle performance as Kristin, Miss Julie’s cook and Jean’s fiancee, provides a perfect contrast to their bravura performances. Purists might be troubled by Roman’s no-holds-barred approach, but this Miss Julie speaks more eloquently about class conflict, sexual politics, and mental illness than most contemporary plays do.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Matthew Gilson.