nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 28, 2008
The Creditors is a three-character play in which August Strindberg reflects on what's worst in human intercourse and intimate relationships. It takes its title from the notion that in each husband/wife pairing there is one partner who takes and another who gives—gives so much that he or she is sucked dry.
The play is about a married couple, Adolf and Tekla. He is younger than she; he's her second husband (and one of the things that unites them is their contempt for and ridicule of her tyrannical first husband). She's a free thinker and a writer. He's a painter. Both view themselves as the "creditors" in their relationship. Did he teach her how to think and how to write, at the expense of his own art and health? (When we meet him, Adolf is a semi-invalid, unable to walk without a pair of canes, and devoid of inspiration; his new friend Gustav has suggested to him that he take up sculpting, but that doesn't seem to be a viable choice.)
Or did she nurture him, so that she is deserving of his tolerance and indulgence when she pursues flings and flirtations?
The play is divided into three scenes, each featuring a different pair of characters. Adolf and Gustav try to solve Adolf's problem in the first; then Adolf confronts his wife—bitterly and horribly—in the second. The resolution comes in the final scene, when Gustav meets Tekla. According to a program note, The Creditors was written at the time of Strindberg's divorce, and it can feel reductive and misogynistic in places; it's also perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be. But it's compellingly raw and incisive, reducing romance and love to bleak transaction and artifice.
The most striking thing about this production of The Creditors, which is the debut production for The Miscreant Theatre, is that it has no director. Though a certain slackness in the overall pacing is a likely by-product of this unusual staging strategy, this choice yields a play that is startlingly balanced and evenly focused. Instead of a single perspective dominating, the p.o.v.s of each character are carefully explored here, giving us what feels like rare insight into each of Adolf, Tekla, and Gustav. All are exposed and made recognizably real by the actors who portray them.
Tracy Liz Miller is a dazzlingly complex Tekla; her characterization reveals the contradictions of this woman who does not necessarily live as she thinks she should and who perhaps does not even believe in the image of herself that she's created for the consumption of others. It's a rich and textured performance.
Jacob Knoll gives us an Adolf at the very end of his rope, confused and disillusioned by the effects of a love that has proven to be disastrously more than he can handle. There are moments when his pain felt so palpable that it was almost hard to watch.
Jeff Barry has the most difficult role, Gustav; once we understand what this man's motives really are, there's very little place for the character to go. Nonetheless, Barry makes him convincingly real and human.
The production values are impressive for a first-time indie company: Lee Savage's set, which is detailed without being naturalistic, serves the play quite well, as do the uncredited costumes, which are suggestive of Strindberg's own time without firmly establishing the play in any precise period. I was especially impressed by the quality of the art (presumably created by Adolf) that's used in the production—fine enough to make us really believe, as perhaps Strindberg did, in the brilliance being quashed by this horrifically out-of-balance ledger of a marriage.