August Strindberg's late-19th-century play Miss Julie was the inspiration for Julia, the incendiary one-act written and directed by Claudio Raygoza, Ion Theatre's executive artistic director. But don't go looking for too many clues in Strindberg's naturalistic work, which was twice made into a film. Raygoza's Julia is not the oppressed daughter of a Swedish count, but a wronged wife of a Mexican politician who flouts her liberation (so she thinks) and exacts her revenge (sort of ) by way of unseen hubby Ruben's valet and cook.
It's full-throated, sexy, gun- and knife-wielding melodrama, with Catalina Maynard (in the title role) madly shifting, like a Formula One driver in a chicane, from haunted to seductive to explosive. The placid 1970s trappings and the presence of a telescope aimed at a starry night sky (a prop for an ongoing, cryptic eclipse allusion) belie the sense of desperation inside Señora Julia.
While the locale is the Coronado Cays, there's nothing soothing or laid-back in Raygoza's script machinations. When valet Jacob (Jorge Rodriguez) isn't practicing sublimation, he's on the verge of either ravishing Julia or throttling her—we never know which. Their tango is half embrace, half mugging. Meanwhile, young Cristal (Anyelid Meneses) is ever apologizing and cowering, yet still manages to cook up a rabbit stew for dinner at Julia's request. But they're both under Maynard's overpowering influence. She's a charismatic specter toying with them from moment to teetering moment.
Maynard, memorable in Ion's stellar production of Angels in America last season, commands the black-box stage in Hillcrest as if she owned it, and is, throughout the 90 minutes, daring Jorge, Cristal or anyone else to just try and infringe on her turf. The low-cut red dress she wears in the second half of the play leaps out against the low-key California-condo set by Brian Redfern, and the significance of red as a power color—or a dangerously sexual one—is not lost in these proceedings.
Rather than make a significant case for Julia's empow- erment or her surrender, the play culminates with a kind of exhaustion, on all sides, though we suspect that the resourceful Señora will live to love and fight another day. Julia runs through Oct. 27 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $27-$33. iontheatre.com —David L. Coddon
Back to Broadway: A fundraiser packed with singing, dancing and sketches will be staged at 2 and 7 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: A Texas brothel is under a siege launched by a pesky TV reporter. Opens Oct. 26 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
The Night of the Iguana: In the 1940s, a minister has been expelled from his church and, separately, accused of statutory rape, and now he's in Mexico and entangled with a handful of women who have problems of their own. Presented by the Southwestern College School of Arts and Communication, it opens Oct. 24 in Mayan Hall at the college's Chula Vista campus.
Spider Baby the Musical: In this return-engagement adaption of a 1964 cult horror flick, three inbred siblings terrorize a couple of relatives who visit with malicious intent. Runs from Oct. 26 though Nov. 4 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. spiderbaby themusical.com
Wait Until Dark: Three baddies try to con a blind woman into handing over a doll that, unbeknownst to her, holds heroin within. Previews run Oct. 26 through Nov. 2, and it opens for real on Nov. 3 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Julia: In a world-premiere political thriller set in 1970s San Diego, the wife of a Mexican presidential candidate is drawn to her chauffer. Presented by Ion Theatre, it runs through Oct. 27 at BLK BOX @ 6th & Penn Theatre. iontheatre.org
Good People: A lower-class South Boston woman loses her cashier job and goes to her old boyfriend, a doctor, for help. Through Oct. 28 at The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Rent: Here's your chance to see this musical, about young adults struggling to survive in New York, if you missed it recently the Birch North Park Theatre. Through Oct. 28 at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. welktheatresandiego.com
The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek: In a small town during the Great Depression, a speeding train beckons a couple of bored teens. Through Oct. 28 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
The Sugar Witch: In the San Diego premiere of this Southern gothic drama, a woman tries to rid a Florida family of a curse that their own grandmother placed on them. Through Nov. 3 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Over the River and Through the Woods: When Nick tells his two sets of grandparents that he's been offered a job on the other coast, they try to keep him around by dangling a hot chick in front of his face. Through Nov. 4 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Words By: Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook: A musical tribute to George Gershwin's older brother, who penned the lyrics to numerous classic tunes from the 1920s through the 1950s. Through Nov. 11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Around the World in 80 Days: It's 1872 and smart guy Phileas Fogg sets out to prove he can get around the globe in less than three months. How quaint! Through Nov. 18 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Dec. 15 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net