Here’s a rule of thumb about European directors: they tend to approach classic plays far more forcefully than their American and English counterparts.
A fair example would be the Russian-language production of the 1888 Strindberg drama “Miss Julie,” which comes from Moscow’s State Theatre of Nations and is currently playing City Center as part of Lincoln Center Festival.
Such experimental productions have the potential to be exciting and innovative, but they are just as likely to be confusing and frustrating, especially when the director imposes a heavy-handed concept that is at odds with the play itself.
In “Miss Julie,” director Thomas Ostermeier (whose productions have previously been seen at Brooklyn Academy of Music) has shifted the setting from late 19th century Sweden to contemporary Russia.
The title character, an upper-crust daughter of a count who was raised to act like an aggressive male, is here portrayed as a spoiled, reckless party girl, not unlike the sort you would find on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or some other reality show.
But what’s more unusual is Ostermeier’s use of live video projections of the actors — for no apparent reason. At the start, a cooked chicken is seen in close-up as it is being cut up for soup. (It’s difficult enough to keep up with the English supertitles. Why make us also watch video?) The set also spins around — again, for no apparent reason.
Although Ostermeier’s directorial touches are excessive, “Miss Julie” remains a tight, compelling drama, and its relocation to the present day is a natural fit given its central theme of misunderstanding and resentment between the rich and poor.
The production is not suited to the large auditorium at City Center, where musicals and dance events are typically produced. However, the three-member cast is great, lending both vulnerability and ferocity as the stakes between Julie and her seduced/seducing manservant become increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.
If you go: “Miss Julie” plays through Sunday at City Center. 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh aves, lincolncenterfestival.org.