The plays of August Strindberg are disturbing. Even though he wrote in the late 1800s, his plays have a psychological truth that is relevant today. Sad to say, the hurts, fears and nastiness that are exposed in his play “Creditors” still ruin as many lives today as they did when the play was written in 1889.
This is made painfully clear in the brilliantly acted production that is at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. through August 12. This three-person play deals with revenge and human frailty. In 90-minutes, it explores the damage that lies can inflict on the insecure. It is a hypnotic production of a rather unpleasant play.
“Creditors” is part mystery, part comedy and total tragedy. You might find yourself laughing during the show – but certainly not at play’s end. This is a work in which those who obtain their goals lose that which they desire – and their souls in the process.
As the play opens, Adolph, a successful young painter recently turned sculptor, is confiding in a new friend Gustav, a slightly older man who saved his life. Adolph’s wife has been away for more than a week and Gustav has become his Svengali in her absence. He seems to have total sway over the insecure and uncertain Adolph.
When Adolph seeks guidance from his new friend about some troubles in his marriage, the tensions mount. Gustav knows too much about the wife Tekla, who is also older than Adolf. She’s been married before to a comically inept teacher. That marriage is the source of a best-selling novel she wrote, one that permits her an independent life. The advice the young artist receives is clearly sabotage meant to hurt the relationship
The play takes place in three movements. The first is between the suave, confident Gustav in which the older man preys on the weakness of Adolph. The second scene has Adolph confront Tekla and he destroys their trust and severely damages their relationship. In the final movement Gustav and Tekla meet, and all the suspicions that were aroused in the earlier scenes are confirmed.
What might seem flimsy on the page is dark and deep on stage – provided you have skilled actors. And this Shakespeare & Company production features three marvelous performances.
Jonathan Epstein plays Gustav as a cunning manipulator. His dominance of Adolph is so complete you fear for the young artist’s sanity and safety. Epstein is brilliant in signaling the diabolical nature of the man, while leaving enough mystery in the portrayal so as to wonder if the obvious might be wrong. Over the years, Epstein has been a mainstay of the company. Just when you begin to think that he is at the top of his game as an actor, he seems to get better.
Ryan Winkles is another Shakespeare & Company regular. This portrayal of a frail man just might be his strongest work in his twelve seasons with the company. He makes the audience sympathize with Adolph who is so weak that he loses his ability to walk when threatened. We might never understand why the character makes so many obviously bad choices, but Winkles makes us feel bad that he does.
Kristen Wold is also mysterious as Tekla. She is a strong woman, who is in charge of her life, but she is also reactionary. She is easily tempted, but contrary to her husband’s nature, she is wise enough to understand the consequences of bad choices. Wold offers a subtle performance that makes Tekla seem a chip in an insidious game, though she actually never loses control of her own destiny.
The production is filled with marvelous choices that add complexities to a complex play. Thanks to director Nicole Ricciardi, this talky work stays engaging throughout.
This is the first time I’ve seen “Creditors.” I don’t know that I want to ever see another production, but I’m glad I saw this one.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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