Stacy Ross and Phil Wong are excellent in Cutting Ball Theater’s world premiere of Megan Cohen’s “Free For All.” (Courtesy Ben Krantz)

Stacy Ross and Phil Wong are excellent in Cutting Ball Theater’s world premiere of Megan Cohen’s “Free For All.” (Courtesy Ben Krantz)

Cutting Ball reimagines ‘Miss Julie’ with panache

‘Free For All’ cleverly updates Strindberg classsic

Cutting Ball Theater’s season opener, “Free For All,” subtitled “a new ‘Miss Julie’ for a new world,” is a reminder of the company’s sterling reputation as a theater that often explores the classics in new, exciting ways.

It opens with a modern-day, middle-aged Julie skiing joyfully down Nob Hill while, in a rapid, stream-of-consciousness monologue, vowing to change her life, become a better person.

Whether she will or not is only one of the issues that drives the plot.

Local playwright Megan Cohen’s dystopian comedy-drama, developed with and directed by the company’s artistic director Ariel Craft, fires on all cylinders. There’s even a house on fire.

Like August Strindberg’s 1888 “Miss Julie,” it’s a one-act that cannily explores gender roles and class divisions, but all within the context of a climate-change disaster. It’s a lot of context for a one-act play, but not too much for this artistic team.

Rather than taking place on one long midsummer night in a Swedish mansion, Cohen’s setting is San Francisco, mostly in a manor atop Nob Hill, and mostly on one significant night. It’s the final snowfall before a flood that will turn the remaining remnants of the city into a tropical island.

As socialites party in another room — Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” cleverly plays in the background — Julie takes refuge in the kitchen, where house cook John is meticulously preparing a complicated deviled egg, in real time, for his fiancée, the housemaid Christine.

An ambiguous relationship slowly and organically develops between acerbic and anti-social heiress Julie (Stacy Ross, who illuminates every iota of the character’s contradictory, complex psyche) and John (an endearingly uneasy and impulsive Phil Wong).

All the while, the hapless maid dozes nearby — but, and it’s a startling but canny artistic choice — the audience is Christine.

In an ongoing and ominous motif adapted from Strindberg, bird puppets (including a street pigeon, Julie’s caged pet she clearly prefers over humans) peck and flutter about. They’re cleverly manipulated by Miyaka P. Cochrane and Charlie Gray, who double as tech support and a sort of silent Greek chorus, watching askance at the kitchen antics.

And in one wonderfully satirical scene, Ross and Wong, with fake mustaches and cigars, play a pair of party guests: soused, entitled, sexist, misogynist.

The ending drags on too long — often a flaw in new plays — but that’s a minor complaint. This is a fascinating, beautifully staged world premiere.


Free For All

Where: Cutting Ball Theater, 277 Taylor St., S.F.

When: 2 or 7 p.m. most Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 or 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 or 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 20

Tickets: $15 to $45

Contact: (415) 525-1205,


If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017 (Bay City News file photo)
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a COVID-19 update at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Gavin Newsom under COVID: The governor dishes on his pandemic life

By Emily Hoeven CalMatters It was strange, after 15 months of watching… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Deputy public defender Chris Garcia outside the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
As pandemic wanes, SF public defender hopes clients will get ‘their day in court’

Like other attorneys in San Francisco, Deputy Public Defender Chris Garcia has… Continue reading

Most Read