"Julie D" at the Waldron is a moving story of the uneasy hinging of creativity and addiction. It is a resounding success for playwright Mike Smith, a triumph for Francesca Sobrer as Julie and a genuine accomplishment for a strong cast, director Richard Perez and the combined efforts of the Bloomington Playwrights Project and the Bloomington Area Arts Council. "Julie D" is not a play about alcohol or alcoholism, but a play about a particular character who’s alternately dominated by alcohol and by sobriety.
When Julie D. was sixteen she knew that she wanted to be a writer. When she was fourteen, she’d discovered rum and coke. Her alcohol fueled first novel, begun in college, was an award-winning piece. But, there’s been nothing since. She’s been sober. Julie’s been able to be a wife and mother and now, a successful college teacher, but she’s not able to write. For her alcohol either opens the gates of inspiration or breaks down the dams of inhibition. She says that "sober, isn’t who I am." Julie D is an alcoholic.
In the production at the Waldron, one side of the intimate Rose Firebay’s stage is Julie D’s college English office where she acts out her sober day-to-day life. The other side is where the drinking Julie’s actors play out the visions and revisions of a play that she is working on. It’s a potent piece of theatre skillfully directed by Richard Perez that with only occasional confusion worked very well.
Julie D reveals a lot about herself by the characters she creates from her own life. She draws her husband, Frank Buczolich, as a stiff unfeeling, manipulative older man, her supportive department chairman, Mark McIntyre, as a randy traveling salesman type. Julie’s warm young math professor lover, Todd Fleck, becomes a painter who’s as cold in personality as he is abstract in artistic style. An adoring writing student, Jessica Rothert, is a callow would be artist’s model. Julie’s own mathematically gifted son, Eric Dagley, is treated more gently. He’s a gifted pianist. Julie, herself, played by Amanda Scherle, she presents as a mixed up, callous woman who leaves husband and infant son.
Throughout the play Francesca Sobrer as the downward spiraling Julie D was a captivating central figure in a deeply interesting role.
The co-production by the Bloomington Playwrights Project and the Bloomington Area Arts Council of Mike Smith’s "Julie D" has its final three performances this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at eight in the Rose Firebay of the John Waldron Arts Center.