Victory Gardens Theater presents MIES JULIE Review – Apartheid’s Violent Ghosts

Expect to be disturbed—

—But know ahead of time—at least from this writer’s view—that there are few productions on Chicago stages that make your discomfort so worthwhile.

We are in a rural kitchen in the South African countryside. Christine (Celeste Williams), the aging maid to the Boehr family that owns title to this farm, labors to scrub every inch of the floor. She is on her knees, only taking very short breaks to hold her back and get a moment’s relief from the strain of her stooped posture. Barefoot and seeming to be hot, the farmer’s daughter Mies Julie (Heather Chrisler) enters, oblivious to Christine’s labors. Her blackened dirty feet crossing the floor make more work for Christine to re-do.   We see in an instant that she is selfish, entitled and clueless---- and yet not one word has been spoken. In many ways, this opening scene telegraphs most of what is to follow.

Victory Gardens MIES JULIE
Jalen Gilbert (left) as John and Heather Chrisler (right) in the title role Photo: Liz Lauren
Victory Gardens MIES JULIE
Victory Gardens MIES JULIE
Victory Gardens MIES JULIE
(foreground) Jalen Gilbert as John and in background is his mother Christine played by Celeste Williams

When Christine’s son John (Jalen Gilbert) comes in to the kitchen we begin to learn the back story of Mies Julie’s very troubled past- recent and not so recent. The story unfolds to reveal the passions long boiling below the surface in this cauldron in the veldt, and in this script, quite literally breaking to the surface in the metaphoric form of tree roots uprooting the kitchen floor. These subterranean passions, in this adaptation of the classic Miss Julie script by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, are first and foremost born of the apartheid system that had attempted to justify the Boehr and British land grab from Christine and John’s ancestors generations before.

Brilliant Script Adaptation

In a brilliant masterstroke akin to playwright Tanika Gupta grasping how the Dickens’ classic Great Expectations could be so seamlessly transported to colonial India (See Silk Road Rising and Remy Bumppo Theatre Present GREAT EXPECTATIONS Review– Dickens Spiced Right), South African playwright Yaël Farber has realized the potential of Strindberg’s script to bottle the continuing legacy of apartheid in South Africa long after its official ban in 1994. More, along the road to making this about apartheid, Farber’s pen edits out some of the back and forth class and gender battles in the original script—a liposuction type edit that, from this writer’s view, condenses it into one heckuva powerhouse emotional punch.

Victory Gardens Theater Handles Every Production Detail Perfectly

In lesser hands than those of Director Dexter Bullard, the considerable emotional wallop of Mies Julie might have been diluted. The acting struck this writer as flawless—including the accents that by play’s end seems as familiar as the inflections of our next door neighbors. T. Ayo Alston as the ancestor white-faced ghost playing an amp’d African thumb piano adds an elegiac soundscape that presages the lingering way this story haunts you well after the curtain bow.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.


Written by:                   Yaël Farber

Directed by:                 Dexter Bullard

Adapted from:             August Strindberg’s Miss Julie

Cast:   T. 'Ayo' Alston (Ukhokho), Heather Chrisler (Mies Julie), Jalen Gilbert (John) and Celeste Williams (Christine)

Creative Team:     Kurtis Boetcher (scenic design), Raquel Adorno (costume design), Diane D. Fairchild (lighting design), Stephen Ptacek (sound design) and Eleanor Kahn(props), Phillip Timberlake (dialect coach), Kristina Fluty (intimacy/violence coach), Carol Ann Tan (assistant director) Jessica Forella (production stage manager) and Skyler Gray(dramaturg)


Thru June 24

Tuesdays - Fridays:     7:30pm
Saturdays:  3:00pm; 7:30pm
Sundays:   3:00pm


Victory Gardens Theater
2433 North Lincoln



Tickets available at theater box office or call  773.871.3000 or also at the Victory Gardens website


Photos: Liz Lauren

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