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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Example News 1: Sienna Miller takes on an obsessive Miss Julie

She taunts and teases. And acts more than a little crazy. Emotions run high right from the very beginning of "After Miss Julie," Patrick Marber's supercharged version of "Miss Julie," the 19th century Strindberg classic about class, power and, of course, sex.

The Roundabout Theatre Company production, which opened Thursday at its American Airlines Theatre, demonstrates that Marber's updating and transplanting of the Scandinavian drama to post-World War II England works, for the most part, just fine.

The main attraction here, at least in terms of celebrity, is the Broadway stage debut of Sienna Miller as Marber's volatile title character. Miller, a tabloid regular, looks sensational: blond hair done up in a quintessential '40s 'do, her trim figure wrapped in a pert floral print dress that shows off her great legs. The very model of a seducer awaiting to commence seduction.

And wealthy Julie has set her sights on John, her father's seemingly stoic chauffeur and valet, playing by Jonny Lee Miller (no relation to Sienna Miller). In doesn't seem to matter that the man already is spoken for — committed to Christine, the cook at the family's country estate. Julie is relentless in her pursuit of the man.

And there is a relentless quality to Sienna Miller's performance, not terribly subtle or vulnerable, but compelling in its obsessiveness. For anything more than the play's 90 minutes, her single-mindedness might prove too much, but director Mark Brokaw has paced the show nicely, so by the time the show's inevitable tragic ending arrives, we have had just enough of the title character's compulsive behavior.

The action is set very specifically on July 26, 1945, and the following morning — when wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was booted out of office and the Labour Party ushered into power. New beginnings, not only for the government but for John, the class-bound servant who plans on running away to New York with Julie.

But a lot of things go awry in the gloomy estate kitchen, which is where "After Miss Julie" takes place. Designer Allen Moyer's setting is suitably atmospheric, dominated by a large wooden table at center stage that looks as if it could easily seat a dozen diners.

But "After Miss Julie" is a love triangle, a three-character prize fight in which nobody wins. That's because class division has a way of trumping everything, a gulf that John the chauffeur innately understands. It's one of the many effective qualities of Jonny Lee Miller's pitch-perfect performance. The actor expertly captures the man's quandary — his devotion to his job as a servant and then his desires for Julie, desires that inevitably will lead to his downfall.

A surprising amount of the play is performed in silence, showing the downstairs chores of both John and Christine, played with an appropriate weariness by Marin Ireland. Their daily assembly-line drudgery is performed almost robotically, a startling contrast to the erratic, often provocative antics of Julie.

One such highlight: Julie's demand that John kiss her foot. He obliges out of a sense of master-servant duty but the erotic subtext soon moves front and center and dooms everyone on stage. "After Miss Julie" makes for quite an explosive evening.

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