Tensions run high in ArtsEmerson’s ‘Mies Julie’

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Though “Mies Julie” packs an emotional wallop, the core storyline nearly gets lost among a heavy-handed plethora of issues that could easily spark the kind of rage that begets the passion and violence of this powerful, yet almost overwhelming production.

Essentially, “Mies Julie” is an adaption of August Strindberg’s ”Miss Juile,” a 19th-century treatise on class and gender that playwright Yael Farber has transplanted to a post-apartheid farm in South Africa.

Gender, race, social status, physical attraction, politics, abolition and family legacy are the dominant themes of this violent, sexually charged tale. But the issues are so muddled, you could easily miss that land ownership and restitution are the catalysts for the story’s impassioned explosion.

The flirtatious cat-and-mouse power game started by Julie, the former master’s white daughter, quickly devolves into a savage power struggle with long-time black laborer, and childhood friend, John. The burgeoning sexual tension is further convoluted by John’s mother Christine, who served as a mother figure for Julie in childhood and still works as a servant on the property.

Bongile Mantsai (John) moves across the stage with a feline-like physicality that enables him to both dominate and be dominated in this life-changing battle. Hilda Cronje (Julie) carries herself like an extraordinary contemporary dancer, aggressively wielding her heretofore forbidden sexuality as the ultimate weapon.

Thoko Ntshinga superbly embodies the elder servant Christine, displaying an unwavering faith in God and dedication to her ancestry. Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa rounds out a first-class ensemble with a haunting depiction of said ancestors.

Musicians Matthew and Danciel Pencer provide an eerie, atonal score that complements the story’s every twisted turn. And turn it does, almost to the point of exhaustion.

“Mies Julie”
Through Dec. 8
Paramount Center
559 Washington St., Boston
$25 – $89, 617-824-8400
artsemerson.org


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