Review: Chicago Free Press

By Brian Kirst
Contributing writer

The Hypocrites are to modern theater what Martha Graham was to dance and The Replacements were to rock and roll—truly original. Even when their present production of August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” reaches confounding levels of show-off wizardry that seemingly have nothing to do the script, they are still fascinating to behold.

Director and adaptor Sean Graney’s production emphasizes the lead characters’ fears of committing to a particular dream, but he does not suffer from the same fate himself. Graney fully realizes a mobile, revolutionary theatrical experience, finding new meaning in what many consider a difficult though often-produced text. His elaborate touches signify greatly in a world where the very poor and the very privileged still exist side by side with an uneasy truce.

The audience for “Miss Julie” wanders from set piece to set piece, rarely sitting, as its classical story unfolds. It is All Summers Eve and the household run by Miss Julie and her well-off father is celebrating. With her father away on business, the recently rejected Miss Julie takes the opportunity to toy with her male employees by drinking and dancing with them. Miss Julie eventually sets her sights on her father’s masculine boot man, Jean. Though Jean is promised to the no-nonsense household cook, Kristin, he allows himself to become engaged in a twisted all-night, power-hungry rendezvous with Miss Julie. When the dust (and many flung props) settles, Miss Julie and Jean must decide to stay and face the music or flee toward a life of dreamy possibilities. Of course, before all is said and done, as the recently Oscar-nominated movie proclaims, there will be blood.

Working on Marcus Stephens’ mind-boggling creative set, which includes a working kitchen, a slaughterhouse and an employee break room, Graney’s cast performs with all-out fervor. They emphasize both the passion and the humor in this war of the classes and fill the air with an essence of macabre sexuality and stunted grace. Stacy Stoltz gives her Miss Julie a clipped control that steadily decreases as the evening progresses. As she lies, disgraced and exhausted, wrapped around a carcass of beef in the show’s final moments, she actually seems to dissolve, dejectedly, into the prop.

Gregory Hardigan allows his Jean both a comical scorn and a poetic strength. He captures the ultimate lust and regret of his character, providing one of the most accomplished performances of the current theater season. As Kristin, Samantha Gliesten glistens with righteousness and strength. Fully inhabiting Allison Siple’s multifaceted costumes, Gliesten provides ultimate grace in the face of torment. The production is also ably supported by the perky vocal harmonies of Ryan Bourque and Lila Collins as the farm workers. All are skillfully framed by Jack Tamburri’s passionate fingerings on the cello.

While many of Graney’s colorful nuances make artistic sense, a post-coital scene between Julie and Juan, featuring an exploding wall of props including roller blades and walkie talkies, seems to represent nothing but bizarreness for its own sake. Still, Graney’s work here is nothing but provocative, providing audiences with a thrilling and totally alive theatrical experience. Inventive art can justify even the most common existence and the Hypocrites’ “Miss Julie” ultimately provides that fulfillment in spades.