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Ion Theatre Reimagines A Classic Play And Sets It In San Diego

Ion Theatre Reimagines A Classic Play And Sets It In San Diego
GUESTSCatalina Maynard, actress in "Julia." Claudio Raygoza, writer/director of "Julia" and executive artistic director of ion theatre. Jorge Rodriguez, actor in "Julia."

CAVANAUGH: A play from the 19th century with subject matter deeply enmeshed in the European class system might not seem an obvious choice for an adaptation by a San Diego theatre company. But a reworking of spring bird's Ms. Julie, called Julia (Spanish Pronunciation) at the Ion Theater not only moves the scandal from the aristocracy, it places it in 1970s San Diego. My guest, Claudio Raygoza is writer and director of Julia, and artistic director of Ion Theater. RAYGOZA: Thanks Maureen. CAVANAUGH: Catalina Maynard plays the lead, and Jorge plays Jacob. MAYNARD: Now, why did you want to adapt this particular play? RAYGOZA: Oh, that's a very good question. I think it has -- when I was studying directing in school, it was assigned to me. And about halfway through the process of working on it with two actor, the male actor dropped out. So in order to complete the assignment, I had to step in as the actor/director. And at that point, I took a role I hadn't played from the director's chair. And I realized from that point that I needed to work on the play. CAVANAUGH: Tell us if you would, give us a brief reminder of what the original play is about. RAYGOZA: Absolutely. The original play, which was first written in 1888 is set in 1884 in Sweden on the state of a count. And Julie is his daughter. She's sort of an emancipated woman in terms of her own emotional resolve, and she decides on this midsummer's eve festival that she's going to ask the young valet, jean, to dance with her, which would have seen about being very forward. And it's the story of this woman who goes on this journey one night making one inappropriate decision after another. CAVANAUGH: Why in the 1970s? RAYGOZA: It wasn't something that was predetermined. This is the centennial of Strindberg's death, so he is being celebrated around the world this year. And I began to revisit my desire to work on this again. And in that fog of ideas that I had about how to stage it in the preliminary work I did with it, I realized I was more interested in reinventing the play. Originally, I was thinking of adapting the piece. But then I realized the opportunity we had to tell them a modern story about the struggle of women to be emancipated, to have an equal place at the table, and that's sort of where Julia was born. The play is set interestingly enough in San Diego. I don't think that was ever originally my intent ever. And the ideas started to come out of my own personal history and past. My parents are both immigrants, hearing my mother's story and the struggled she had helped me to realize that. She did live in San Diego in the 1970s briefly. So the ideas came out of there. CAVANAUGH: Let me ask our two actors to give us a reading from the play. I'm going to set it up. And then you can tell us a little bit about your characters. Julia is complimenting Jacob on an important favor he did for her earlier that evening. Jacob does not want his wife, who is in the next room to overhear. The favor, he has stolen a table-top juke box from an airport lounge where they danced together briefly while waiting for Ruben, Julia's husband who never arrives. MAYNARD: And thank you, Jacob, for earlier tonight. You were very accommodating. RODRIGUEZ: You're welcome. I did what you needed me to do. My job. MAYNARD: Your job? Encouraging an old woman in her dilutions. RODRIGUEZ: You're not old. MAYNARD: You score the point. But I'm not a teenaged girl. I don't need compliments. And I expect more from someone who can handle a woman on the dance floor, RODRIGUEZ: That was something else. MAYNARD: Whatever it was, I can find it gallant, can't I? And brave? Take the compliment while it lasts. I don't do that very often. RODRIGUEZ: Thank you. But I don't think any less of you for asking me to do something unusual. It's my job. MAYNARD: Less of me? No, please, tell me how it's even possible for someone like you to think less of me, RODRIGUEZ: I didn't mean it like that. MAYNARD: Maybe you should call me senora again, RODRIGUEZ: I don't think of you in any other way than as I should be. MAYNARD: As you should? Are you condescending on purpose? Say what you mean. RODRIGUEZ: I'm sorry. I misspoke. MAYNARD: That's all? Now I think you also misthought. How should you think of? RODRIGUEZ: I'm sorry, that's all I can say. I'm just -- I'd just like you to know that I'm at your service. MAYNARD: I know that RODRIGUEZ: Serving you completely is what I expect of myself and I am committed to fulfilling that promise. MAYNARD: Now you sound like an advertisement. Stop. It's fine. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I know how disappointed you must be. MAYNARD: You're crossing into dangerous territory. You're very forward for a valet. CAVANAUGH: That was a scene from Julia, are the reworking of Ms. Julie. Thank you both, a very powerful scene. Catalina, you can tell from just that snippet that this is a play that's still involved in class structure and the dynamic between the sexes, and you're all over the place there. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: What in the heck do you want from this guy? MAYNARD: Well, certainly Ms. Julie is a woman who's extremely intelligent, she's worldly, she's had access to education, she's travelled, speaks more than one language. And yet in many ways, she still feels trapped. And I think as a result of the relationship that she's had with men, not just her husband, that this particular evening is different. She's at a crossroads, and she's making different choices. And they might be perceived as being reckless. However, she's very calculated in her risk taking. And I think more than anything, she is determined to have her way. CAVANAUGH: How, Jorge, as we have been speaking here, this play has been updated from the 19th century to the 1970s. But your character is still in a subservient position. But at the same time, the character you play is bursting with pride and ambition. Do you think Jacob, your character, has any real feelings for Julia at all? RODRIGUEZ: Absolutely. I think -- you know, he feels that his mind -- he has a lot to give to the world through his mind, and he hasn't found many people that can match him. And here Julia comes along, and not only can match him, her way of thinking is even greater. And you would think that that presents a threat to him, but it doesn't. It's attractive. It draws him in. So besides that, and besides, you know, she's a very attractive lady, obviously, yes, absolutely. He has feelings for her. CAVANAUGH: This is fascinating. Some of the themes of this play from the 19th century that still resonate today. RAYGOZA: Absolutely. It's still a very timely piece. Resetting it, I don't think that I intended to make it more pertinent. I think that it always has been. I think just reinventing it allows people locally to have a direct access to this particular story. But the issues that women faced in the 1800s were still some of the issues they were facing in the 1970s which is much closer to where we are now, and drawing that line between that period of time and where we are today I think is fascinating. CAVANAUGH: How does San Diego show up in this play? Are there landmarks? RAYGOZA: They go to a Chargers game! [ LAUGHTER ] RODRIGUEZ: I'm a Chargers fan. RAYGOZA: No, that was one of the struggles with the piece originally. Looking at the original piece which was translated verbatim for us by our drama turgical advisor. She did what she calls a platform script and basically retranslated verbatim the play. And in certain places, where the direct translation wasn't perfect, she gave us options. So you triangulate the situation based on that. But there weren't very many references to where they were in Sweden. So I thought is it too much to try to sell the fact that we're in San Diego or do we just allow audiences to go on that ride, and people who are familiar with the hotel in Coronado, and senora Julia has gone shopping in La Jolla earlier. A couple little tid bits. CAVANAUGH: Now, this is a world premiere. I'm wondering, how has your creative process evolved through rehearsals in actually seeing it come off the page and being presented by your actors? RAYGOZA: It -- when I started this process, I have to admit this was probably the scariest thing I've ever undertaken. Both times my partner had directed. This particular process which is our 50th production, so we decided to do something kind of bolder, out of the box, take a bigger risk, was interesting in that it germinated with the idea that I was going to sit down with the actors, come up with the situation and allow them to write their own backstories, which they did beautifully. Better than I ever would have. And their backstories were so rich and detailed that the story started to take shape from their own personal revelations about who their characters were. If it's not working, I throw it away, I say it's bad writing, let's improvise, and we'll rewrite as we go. Even up to last night, this particular scene was trimmed. We thought that's just extraneous. We don't need that. CAVANAUGH: Have you ever been, Catalina, so involved in the creation of a piece like this? MAYNARD: Well, I've been very lucky to work on new work before. But I certainly have to say that this has been absolutely fabulous and wonderful to have this particular process. It's a luxury. And we don't get it that often here in the United States. It's more of a custom in Europe where you have an ensemble, a company, and the plays are written for that company, that group of actors. But I have to applaud Claudioin that it takes a lot of courage to say this is how we're going to approach our work, to have a group of people who come together and says why, we're going to work on this. CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. Julia begins previews September 29th, runs through October 27th at Ion Theater in Hillcrest.

A play from the 19th century, with subject matter deeply enmeshed in the European class system, might not seem an obvious choice for a reworking by a San Diego theater company. But a world premiere production inspired by August Strindberg's iconic "Miss Julie" — called "Julia" at Hillcrest's Ion Theatre — moves the classic drama from Sweden to 1970s San Diego.

Written by Ion Theatre’s founding executive artistic director, Claudio Raygoza, "Julia" reimagines the classic "Miss Julie" protagonist as a worldly woman married to a Mexican presidential hopeful. Julia, played by company member Catalina Maynard, is torn between her husband’s political aspirations and the young, ambitious chauffeur, Jacob (played by Jorge Rodriguez), hired to watch over her. A political thriller/love story mired in power struggles of gender and class, "Julia" is Ion's fifth world premiere production.

KPBS Midday Edition speaks with Claudio Raygoza, writer and director of "Julia" and executive artistic director of Ion Theatre, and two of the play's cast members, Catalina Maynard and Jorge Rodriguez, about how this radical re-imagining was developed.

"Julia" begins previews September 29 and opens October 6. It runs through October 27 at Ion Theatre in Hillcrest.