‘Miss Julie’ in the absence of class struggle and the battle of the sexes

Besides ancient tragedies, Theodoros Terzopoulos and the Attis theater company are not known for producing plays stemming from the classical repertory. Yet the prominent theater man is currently presenting August Strindberg’s «Miss Julie» or «Mademoiselle Julie,» as the production’s actual title goes. Narrating the story of a good-looking servant and his young mistress, Ioulia – as Terzopoulos likes to refer to her – the play has been branded as a work on «class struggle» or even «the battle of the sexes.» «Indeed, the Attis does not work with the classical repertory – and as far as this particular play goes, I wasn’t interested in it a bit. I could tell however that it was a great vehicle for actress Sophia Hill, who is making a comeback after a four-year absence. She had a child and spent the following years with her baby and I wanted to celebrate her return. Of course, when I started working on the play, I was faced with the challenge of how to get into a text that is not exactly your style, without necessarily turning it into something which suits you,» says Terzopoulos. So is this Attis production going to be deprived of the signature Terzopoulos touch? «Not exactly,» he says. «It follows a familiar path to similar productions we’ve done in the past, such as Hainer Muller’s ‘Quartet,’ which dealt with the battle of the sexes. Again we have two characters going into conflict with each other. As far as I am concerned, I’m not at all interested in this clash of the sexes, because I don’t believe that such a thing exists in our society these days. Besides, we now have the third sex, not to mention the emergence of a fourth one in the not-so-distant future, the clones, where a person will have both sexes, similar to the Platonic being – man and woman inhabiting the same body. The battle of the sexes was still around when I was a young man. I find all this terribly dull right now. It’s as if there is a general apathy, as if every single person is fighting their own self, using the other person as an alibi. Things are very different in this world of alienation and indifference. The class struggle doesn’t exist either – the master and the servant, the aristocrat and the tramp.» So what did Terzopoulos do with the play? «I delved a little bit deeper inside the play, all the way down to the human being. I tried to go beyond the sexes. Besides, Ioulia, the play’s principal character, is an archetypal person, leaning toward the tragic. Her parents hated her – they wanted a boy – she hates men and she wants to take on Jean as if man to man. Jean, on the other hand, follows an indirect route to get into her bed and to her wealth, because that’s what he is aiming for. At one point he brings out some passive elements – a feminine side. They both display elements of the opposite sex. You can see the dead-end they face right from the start. It is obvious that they will never escape from their prison and that what they are going to face in the end is not freedom based on their desires, but death.» The production’s set design reflects this notion of a dead-end and was designed by the director himself: «It reminds one of a trap, a trench. Like two long and narrow coffins intersecting to form a cross. That is where the characters lie trapped, away from one another, almost without looking at one another. The collision with the other body is experienced as a fantasy, an illusion. The violence directed toward the other person’s body is ultimately inflicted onto your own. I transferred everything into two sick minds. Two sick minds living the tragedy of modern man,» noted Terzopoulos. Besides directing and designing the sets, Terzopoulos lies behind the play’s translation, based on the play’s translation into German by Peter Weiss. Terzopoulos also went a little further. Besides the play’s original three characters, Ioulia (Hill), Jean (Thanassis Alevras) and Christine (Sophia Michalopoulou), the director added a fourth. «It is the audience, the commentator (Tassos Dimas) who judges or identifies with the characters – it’s my own version of the audience,» says the director. There is little doubt that this particular production of «Miss Julie» differs greatly from the celebrated work’s previous adaptations. «Politics is the dominant aspect here, the ontological dimension. And the sarcasm,» says Terzopoulos. «Right from the beginning, the actors are laughing and using sarcasm, though they end up trapped along with their own sarcasm. I find that sarcasm is the shortest way to tragedy. Our production keeps clear of drama. It is sarcastic, and then, in the third and final part, it turns to tragedy.»