By August Strindberg
Directed by Martin French
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Ryan Watson & Polina Shafran in Creditors. Photo courtesy The Chamber Theatre.
The reason we revisit classic plays is sometimes to exult in another period in history, but truly a play only becomes a classic if it can speak to new generations with something more than the aged, musty voice of history.
Creditors is not as well known as other works by August Strindberg, such as Miss Julie, but this new production from The Chamber Theatre feels as contemporary as anything from a current playwright. The play begins with an extended conversation between painter turned sculptor Adolf (Ryan Watson) and Gustav (Michael Drury), an older, more stable man who is advising the younger man about his relationship with his wife, Tekla (Polina Shafran). Adolf is working on a small sculpture of Tekla while he reveals his deep insecurity about his marriage; how they role play, calling each other “Little Sister and “Little Brother,” and how the dominance in the relationship has shifted to her only after he tutored her academically and culturally. There is also reference to Tekla’s previous husband, whom Adolf has never met.
Before intermission, Gustav exits, Tekla enters, and there is another lengthy scene between her and Adolf that does not bode well for the marriage. Strindberg’s preoccupation with finance as a metaphor for manipulation in relationships is illustrated by the quality of negotiation that is captured in the dense dialogue. It is given great clarity in the translation by Edwin Bjorkman, adapted with care by director Martin French. The obvious updates are accounted for: cell phones and bottled water as props, but modern sensibility emanates from a deeper place, and the immediacy of the characters’ exchanges is in the words and their delivery.
Ryan Watson excels with quick, neurotic speech, and he vividly captures Adolf’s weakness and malleability while realizing the intelligence and self-deception that define him. Michael Drury is a masterpiece of oily, Machiavellian charm as Gustav, and Polina Shafran’s Tekla seems cut very much from the same cloth, so that the audience must engage in their own negotiation with the characters. Does Tekla genuinely love Adolf, or is her own machinations so complete that we cannot believe the sincerity of her emotions? And what is Gustav’s real agenda here?
Creditors is often cited as being misogynistic, which may explain the reticent approach to revivals, but this production holds that claim at bay. Tekla seems remarkably proficient at controlling her own life, and the motivation of the two men in trying to gain the upper hand is not based solely on sexism. All three characters strive to control their lives, and Tekla exhibits as much of that desire as either of the two men.
Mr. French stages the play in a shotgun configuration that places the audience in single rows on each long side, so that our attention is tossed back and forth like watching a tennis match. It lends the experience an even greater immediacy, even if there is some degree of distraction in watching the heads of the people across from you swivel.
This second production from The Chamber Theatre is as spare and bare bones in its trappings as their previous effort, Chek-Mate, but the depth of emotion and cynicism is far greater. To watch the dark, revelatory heart of Creditors play out in the hands of these three is fascinating, and as lean and economical a piece of theatre as you are likely to find.
December 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10 @ 7.30pm
There will be post show discussions on
Monday December 5th and Thursday December 8th
Tickets: $15 / $12 Seniors / Students / Military available at http://tickets.thechambertheatre.com/
All tickets $12 on Monday December 5th (Industry night) available on the door only
The Chamber Theatre
1031 S. 6th St.,
Louisville, KY 40203
For further details, and group rates, please firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.