Nothing was wrong with the Eljay Castro Deldoc adaptation of August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” a chamber piece that’s essentially about a young, rich woman flirting with a charming servant of her household.
Deldoc’s work, now titled “Alembong” (which served as the thesis performance of lead actor Joshua Ade Valenzona), convincingly transferred the action to a dimly lit kitchen in Bulacan.
The script kept its three characters’ impulsive recklessness tied around issues of class and gender, while fitting the threats of neighborhood gossip and civilized society into a distinctly Filipino mold.
The material naturally became less interesting by Act Two, when whatever sexual tension between Miss Julie (Chase Salazar) and family driver Jun (Valenzona) was finally put to bed.
The pursuit was ultimately more satisfying than the fallout, partially due to Ajee Garcia (playing the house cook and Jun’s fiancée Krising) being unable to match her coactors’ energy. There was an opportunity here to reveal Christine as a morally superior third voice, but the character ended up inessential.
Less essential to “Alembong” was co-directors Mara Marasigan and Ricardo Magno’s decision to make a bid for the horrific by employing five ensemble actors, dressed as ghostly brides, to perform interpretative routines in the background. If Strindberg’s penchant for naturalism teaches us anything, it’s that the directors didn’t have to do more than keep this kitchen drama as literal as possible.
Still, as a performance-based thesis, the play gave more than enough for Valenzona to work with—he wound up more effective in Jun’s quiet, defeated gestures than in the character’s large, monstrous declamations.
However, nothing Valenzona did could quite touch Salazar’s work, whose fully present turn as Julie exhibited the kind of psychological craftsmanship these roles need—seductive one moment, scared the next, smaller and smaller till the end. —CONTRIBUTED