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Irish Classical turns up the heat

It’s so hot inside the Andrews Theatre right now, the Irish Classical should consider performing on the sidewalk.

The heat between the three characters in “After Miss Julie,” Patrick Marber’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s classic “Miss Julie,” is like salt on an open wound: astringent but pleasurable, dirty but cleansing. The theater advises that this is not recommended for high school students, though that may be missing the point. Everyone needs heat, now especially. March might be coming in like a lion, but it will certainly go out like a jaguar.

Not all of this chemistry is sexual, though it’s hardly tame; revenge is just as juicy a lemon. But as hard as the young, seductive Miss Julie tries, and as even harder as her would-be suitor John resists, no one – especially John’s relatively demure fiancée – is making lemonade.

Marber’s adaptation moves Strindberg’s play from 19th century Sweden to a post-war English countryside estate, where freedoms are now as tangible as the youth’s desire. Miss Julie, the daughter-in-trust who has shared flirtations with her father’s chauffeur, thrusts herself upon John’s servant’s quarters, which he shares with co-worker Christine, whom he intends to marry. To say this delicately: that John’s handsomeness would appear incongruous to Christine’s fairer complexion is only the beginning of their differences. Their domestic devotion to each other is tender enough, though only inasmuch as he congratulates the wife she will become and not the woman she is. A reminder that today’s aged conservatives were young once, too.

Kate LoConti returns to the Buffalo stage after some time away, and makes quite a splash as our title character. LoConti is perfectly suited for this juicy role, which benefits from some 20th century context. LoConti accesses plenty of familiar, even contemporary, tropes in her bodacious performance. The text hints at would-be descendants to stories of sadomasochism, pet murder and class warfare. An impossible ménage à trois of “Fatal Attraction,” “Downton Abbey” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Though Miss Julie – always referred to formally, ever the employer – is hot for John, her needs also are her own. A would-be heir of this estate, her desires are for the world, for the conquering her older peers would seem to be relishing, while she’s virginally caged to her father’s grounds, left to chase her marbles. It’s never clear which of her bondages is most limiting, though it’s fair to say some of them are of her own making and some are not.

LoConti has great stamina for these competing motivations, though it’s often apparent that her reactions to them need more editing. When she tempers her raucous campaigning in what is too rare a vulnerable moment, she shows a quieter derangement that’s rightfully exhausted, almost to the point of being elegant. LoConti plays all choices at the same time instead of with more manipulation. Even when she’s at her maddest, as the second half of the 90-minute, intermissionless play progresses, we might greatly benefit from seeing her illustrious front crack at the seams. It would be so much more delicious to watch LoConti milk her threats and sneeze her demands than this often loud and static delivery.

Christopher Evans can keep up as John. He is delicious in this comparatively reserved role. Evans has a common disposition that’s both ruggedly handsome and unassumingly clean-shaven. Perfect for a left-field entanglement. His loyalty to Christine is dutiful and romantic at best, but his desire for Miss Julie is far more carnal and, at his age, more enticing. Evans never lets us fault John for his various infidelities until it’s too late to ignore. Romeo and Juliet, these two aren’t, but you still can’t resist wanting a happy ending, however uprooted it leaves Christine, who, for the record, is no saint herself.

It’s Anne Roaldi Boucher, as the put-upon lady-in-waiting, who makes maybe the evening’s biggest leaps. Boucher does more with a cigarette and silence than what some can do with a top hat and cane. Her quiet tension is a needed reminder of the importance of levels, of measurement.

The same can be said of this production’s design. Tom Makar’s sound exceeds utilitarian ambience and paints delusions of grandeur. David Dwyer’s set removes the Andrews’ southern fourth wall of seats and replaces with it a simple, convincing set that used to stop you in your tracks at Studio Arena. This stage has never felt bigger, and yet with more things. His hanging pendant lights, utilized breathlessly in Brian Cavanagh’s design, are some of the fine details that italicize this largely exquisite production.

REVIEW

3 stars (out of four)

What: “After Miss Julie”

Who: Irish Classical Theatre Company

Where: Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St.

When: Through March 22

Info: 853-ICTC or irishclassicaltheatre.com

Note: For mature audiences; no high school students admitted.

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