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THEATER REVIEW: “Julia” makes world premiere at ion in Hillcrest

Fine ensemble acting characterizes Claudio Raygoza’s “Julia,” now in its world premiere and playing through Oct. 27 at ion theatre.

Inspired by August Strindberg’s classic “Miss Julie” – with its themes of class, power and gender roles in 19th-century Sweden – Raygoza has reimagined the original and moved the location to San Diego in 1975, suggesting the continuing relevance of the issues, despite where the power lies.

In this case, the power is in the hands of Julia (Catalina Maynard), married to a Mexican attorney with presidential ambitions. Julia is rich, elegant, imperious, angry and determined to derail her philandering husband’s plans.

She chooses as pawns her Latino household help, Jacob Ortiz (Jorge Rodriguez) and his wife Cristal (Anyelid Meneses). Jacob, who objects to being labeled a valet (saying Julia’s husband calls him Chief of Staff), has his own ambitions – he is studying literature at UCSD and hopes to move out of the servant class as soon as possible.

His younger, undereducated wife Cristal serves as both cook and an object of Julia’s feminist disgust. Cristal is a hard worker but timid and accepting of her life’s turns. Her passivity infuriates Julia, who advises her to stiffen her spine, an admonition that will fall on deaf ears.

But Julia concentrates her attention on Jacob, who among his other attributes offers a smoldering sexuality to match her own.

Such a setup cannot end well, of course, but I’ll leave you to discover how badly it does finish.

Maynard is astonishing as the charming but reptilian Julia, whose sinuous movements and soothing voice could lead anybody straight to the gates of hell.
It’s good to see her in a role worthy of her many talents.

Rodriguez and Meneses, newcomers to ion, make fine foils for Maynard and excellent contributions of their own.

Raygoza could stand to revise the confusing subplot about a telescope and lunar eclipse. But forget that and appreciate Raygoza’s taut direction, well supported by Brian Redfern’s elegant scenic design, James Dirks’ fine sound design, Karin Filijan’s moody lighting.

“Julia” is ion’s fifth world premiere and its 50th overall production. Raygoza and co-founder Glenn Paris specialize in serious, edgy and adventurous works of the sort you will not see in many theaters.

Watching “Julia” is a little like spending 90 minutes inside a pressure cooker with the heat rising, but when you leave, you’ll know you’ve seen some riveting theater.

The details

"Julia" plays through Oct. 27 at ion theatre’s BLKBOX, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm.

For tickets, call 619-600-5020 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.