The Aurora Theatre, Berkeley

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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“Creditors,” written by the much-admired and influential Swedish playwright August Strindberg (1849 –1912) known for his forward-thinking and naturalistic dramas, has been produced much less frequently over the years than some of his more well-known offerings, such as Miss Julie. However, with the new translation by David Greig, “Creditors” has had recent successful runs in London and New York, among other venues.

This dark psychological drama, well-directed by Barbara Damashek (“A Number,”“Splendour,” “American Buffalo,” “Fat Pig”), is riveting in parts and upsetting in others. In fact, I was physically uncomfortable watching it at times. That’s how strongly “Creditors’” effect can be, and that’s a good thing. The interaction among the characters is the strength of the production. But one must seriously suspend disbelief to buy into some of the plot underpinnings.

“Creditors” is about a savage sexual triangle involving the young, weak and malleable artist Adolph (Joseph Patrick O’Malley, “A Number”), his older and freethinking, flirtatious, novelist-wife, Tekla (Rebecca Dines, “The Homecoming,” “Mud Blue Sky,” “Widowers Houses”) and the manipulative, soulless and vindictive Gustav (Jonathan Rhys Williams, “Therese Raquin,” “The Homecoming”).

The intermission-less, 105-minute psychological chess match takes place in the lounge of a Swedish seaside hotel, where Adolph has been spending a week trying to paint and sculpt while his wife is away. In Tekla’s week-long absence, Gustav has befriended Adolph and engages Adolph in lengthy, pointed conversations about Adolph’s marriage, while he cleverly and persistently insinuates thoughts about Tekla’s unfaithfulness and her domination over Adolph. Adolph and Tekla’s marriage appeared to be happy, but Gustav, with Iago-like surgical precision, pierces Adolph’s heart with doubts about Tekla. After all, Tekla was unfaithful to her first husband, whom she divorced to marry Adolph, so suggestable Adolph readily falls prey to Gustav’s insinuations. Gustav goes as far as to suggest that Adolph may have epilepsy, and sure enough, Adolph begins to show signs of the disease.

Written when the paranoid Strindberg was going through one of his acrimonious divorces, “Creditors” reflects the author’s need to dominate women — in literature, if not in life. Yet, he does present Tekla as a modern independent woman, but only until she momentarily allows herself to succumb to Gustav’s seduction.

The drama is a fascinating character study, particularly of Gustav, who, for all his singular malevolence, seems to be the most believable of the three, and was very well-acted by Jonathan Rhys Williams. But that Adolph and Tekla could fall sway so effortlessly to Gustav’s lies and insinuations leaves me questioning this feature of the play. For example, I woke up in the middle of the night wondering why Adolph was listening at the door. Yes, I have thought about “Creditors” long after I left the theater. And that is an indisputable endorsement of any piece of theater.  

This article originally appeared on Berkeleyside

By Emily S. Mendel

©Emily S. Mendel 2019    All Rights Reserved

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