Hot August Nights 

Who's afraid of August Strindberg? The 19th-century playwright has a reputation as one of those serious, scary Scandinavians, but his most famous play, 1888's Miss Julie, generates enough class resentment and sexual tension to fit right in on cable television. Out of Hand Theater's visceral production teases S&M themes out of the script and even lists a "sadomasochistic advisor" in the program. But the young company isn't imposing a modern concept on a stodgy classic: the riding crops and foot-kissing were always there.

Director Ariel de Man and the cast maintain an erotic charge throughout the first act. Julie (Maia Knispel), a Count's impulsive daughter, boldly flirts with a valet named Jean (Adam Fristoe). Despite the presence of Kristin (Park Krausen), the household cook and Jean's pious girlfriend, Julie ardently pursues Jean, who seems all too willing to be caught. Knispel makes Julie as imperious as a dominatrix and as impetuous as a spoiled brat.

Strindberg's text plays a game of master and servant, in which Julie must fall as Jean rises and vice versa. But their relationship's implications go deeper than just a kinky bodice-ripper. Embodying the working-class drive for betterment, Jean hopes to use Julie's connections to become a hotelier. Julie, despite her forceful first impression, proves to be a vulnerable, mixed-up child of a proto-feminist mother and thus a victim of 19th-century gender politics.

Miss Julie hinges on a fact of its time - that a one-night stand could ruin a person's life - and each actor has a contemporary demeanor that undermines the conflict. Fristoe certainly conveys the cockiness of a young man on the make, but Jean's arrogance lacks much bitterness at his "underclass" status. In the second act, when Miss Julie faces the consequences of her rash decisions, Knispel flies into furious fits, banging her head on furniture and leaping on Fristoe, pummeling him with her fists.

Just when Miss Julie should be building to a wrenching conclusion, the show finds laughs that go against Strindberg's tragic intent. Despite its lively approach to dominance and submission, this Miss Julie gets a little too out of hand for its own good.

CURT.holman@creativeloafing.com

Miss Julie runs through May 15. 7 Stages Back Space, 1105 Euclid Ave. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (2 p.m. matinee May 14). $10-$25. 404-522-6194. www.outofhandtheater.com.

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