Robert Bush 11:18 p.m., May 25
August Strindberg died 100 years ago. To celebrate the Centennial, Ion Theatre's 50th production is its fifth world premiere. Claudio Raygoza's Julia is not an adaptation. It was "inspired" by Strindberg's Miss Julie.
Written in 1888, Miss Julie is one of Strindberg's most famous and most misogynistic works. Twenty-five-year-old Julie's a countess made crazy - or crazier - when her fiance breaks their engagement. Why? She was always trying to "train" him. So Julie decides to slum with her servant Jean.
In his preface, Strindberg says women are inferior to men and should know their place in the natural order. he calls Julie a "half-woman, man-hater...who thrusts herself forward, who sells herself nowadays for power...as she used to for money. She signifies degeneration."
Raygoza resets the intermissionless drama in Coronado, 1975. Julia's the wife of Mexico's current presidential candidate. He had a blond mistress in La Jolla. On this night, as the prospect of a lunar eclipse builds carnival-like excitement, Julia hoped to make a new beginning. Instead she sniffs cocaine, slugs down Jose Cuervo, and decides to decimate her absent husband's young servants, both from Mexico: valet Jacob (a student at UCSD), and is fiancee Cristal (who barely speaks English).
The writing moves in swift, progressive stages to a harrowing confrontation. Raygoza has a deft feel for dialogue (both spoken and un-), moment-to-moment power shifts, and the emotions they incite.
They say playwrights shouldn't direct their work. Raygoza's an exception. He has an eye for the telling nuance, the revealing glance, and knows when to twist the tension and when to let it go.
Only one scene feels forced. The final confrontation is lengthy and appears to have been written for the performer - as a frenzied star turn - rather than the truth of the "loca" situation.
Catalina Maynard, Noel Award-winner, makes crazed Julia a scorpion ever about to strike (sustaining that pressure's one of the most difficult kinds of acting). She subtly suggests that her controlling husband's a rampant Strindbergian, and she's the result.
New faces Jorge Rodriguez and Anyelid Meneses are first-rate as Jacob and Cristal. He projects a made of conflicting motives; she goes way inside and plays a stranger in a land growing stranger by the minute.
In his preface, Strindberg complains that "there is nothing harder than getting a room on stage that looks appropriately like the real room." Brian Redfern's detailed set, a sleek interior and balcony, might astonish the Swedish playwright. Not to mention how Karin Filijan's expert lighting practically builds suspense on its own.