Triumph for SATC and Strindberg: "Bastards of Strindberg," a staged reading of four one-act plays, shows that August Strindberg still has the power to inspire, even when his own material might be a bit stale. These children of Strindberg are quite beautiful and very much carry his blood.
What promised to be just another staged reading of "Bastards of Strindberg" by the Scandinavian American Theater Company at Scandinavia House, turned into a triumphant evening. I write "just another" because for a media-stuffed audience, readings can be dry and uninspiring. In addition, this time the reading was four one-act plays based on or informed by one of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's most dated and overplayed pieces: "Miss Julie."
The reading, however, was wonderful. All four plays ("High Powered," "Midsummer at Tyrolen," "Chanting Hymns To Fruitless Moons" and "The Truth About Fröken Julie") were sharply written, relevant and fun as well as practically acted rather than read, and excellently done so. The four plays showed that though it's 100 years since Strindberg died (and 124 years since he wrote "Miss Julie"), he still has the power to inspire. The reading was also a testament to the enormous talent that's around—whether they are writers, actors or directors, and regardless of where they are from.

If I were to pick a favorite, it'd be Swedish playwright Andreas Boonstra's "The Truth About Fröken Julie," the longest of the pieces, which was constructed like a bunch of directorial notes more than a regular play. It delved into Strindberg's original text with a magnifying glass, exposing its loopholes and mistakes, and doing so with verve and finesse without dismantling the Swedish literary giant. Boonstra is fluent when it comes to "Miss Julie" for he has read it and read it and then read it some more. In his play, he gently pokes fun of Strindberg's textual problems. Why, for instance, would a man like Jean be a footman when he has traveled around Europe and speaks French? And what of the name Jean? What servant in Sweden at the time had a name like Jean? Boonstra did more than that, he broke with what Strindberg wanted to do with "Miss Julie"—to usher in the naturalistic theater.
"Strindberg wanted to raise up the fourth wall in the theater room," explained Boonstra. "He wanted to give the audience the sense that they were flies on the wall, seeing and hearing something on stage they weren't supposed to see or hear. But what we're doing in Europe today is the opposite; we're tearing down that wall. We want to close the gap between the stage and the audience."
In the panel discussion that followed the performances, Boonstra admitted he didn't feel enthusiastic when he was approached to write a short play inspired by "Miss Julie."
"First I said 'yes' because who doesn't want his play read in New York City," he said. "But when I heard 'Miss Julie', I thought 'Oh, no, not again.' I think the play lacks relevance today; I think it's antiquated."
My thoughts as well. Yet, these four plays all added something to the character of Julie, in a way they were better—or perhaps just more in tune with our time—than Strindberg's "Miss Julie." I think what's lacking in "Miss Julie" is that we as an audience don't really care what happens to any of the characters, we never feel for them, but that wasn't at all the issue with the newly written plays.


In "High Powered" by Dominique Morisseau, a couple is fighting over whether it's worth the price you have to pay to move up in society. Wonderful acting by Jocelyn Bioh and Harvey Gardner Moore—the audience loved and rooted for both their characters: his fierce insistence on becoming somebody, of making something of his life, and her feelings of being happy with what she already had.
In "Midsummer at Tyrolen," written by Lina Ekdahl, actors Vanessa Johansson, Oliver Burns and Anette Norgaard began by commenting on the three characters in "Miss Julie" (Julie, Jean, and Kristin) and then slowly merged into them. It's an enormously entertaining morsel which again shed light on Strindberg's play.
In "Chanting Hymns To Fruitless Moons," playwright David Bar Katz examines what would have happened had Julie not met the fate Strindberg forced upon her (suicide).

"When re-reading the play, I found myself angry," Bar Katz said at the discussion that followed the reading. "Angry that Miss Julie had to die. So I was channeling my anger on her behalf (by giving her another ending). I also wanted to know what Midsummer really meant, what it was Strindberg alluded to in the play, the pagan forces. I wanted to see these actualized."
And lastly there was, Boonstra's "The Truth About Fröken Julie," a gem for anyone in love with Strindberg.

Thus the reading was also a triumph for Strindberg. It is of course flattering for a Swede like myself, to see non-Swedes—Americans in particular—discover someone like Strindberg. It is even more flattering to watch foreigners create something as moving as these plays inspired by Strindberg.

The Scandinavian American Theater Company is a collective of theater artists founded in 2009 to provide a Scandinavian perspective through the new generation of Scandinavian playwrights and theater artists. They present contemporary plays and inventive takes on the classics from the Nordic region, which includes Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland.
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