BWW Reviews: OTE and New American Theatre's CREDITORS Hits the Mark in its Latest Adaptation
Written in 1888 by August Strindberg, the master of naturalistic tragedies or tragicomedies, Creditors still has the ability to grab an audience over one hundred years later with its intriguingly complex plotline and fiercely real characters whose flaws and demons, often portrayed quite humorously, have become universal. Currently in a handsome production at the Odyssey co-produced by OTE and the New American Theatre, Creditors is guided by David Trainer's sturdy directorial hand and boasts a superlative trio of actors, now through December 15.
In the realm of ideas, big ideas about men and women, love and marriage, independence and artistic freedom, Strindberg had quite a bit to get off his chest. Tekla (Heather Anne Prete) who has been married before has a passion to be a writer, but according to her second husband artist Adolph (Burt Grinstead) he gave her a 'grounding in grammar' as well as the courage to pursue her dream. Without him, she would not have found success. She is depicted as brazen, flirtatious, constantly on the lookout for younger, more appetizing men...cheating on Adolph, a fact which Adolph had been prone to ignore. When Gustav (Jack Stehlin) enters the picture at the very top, he is confronting Adolph for the first time, prying him with questions to learn more about this marriage and the demeanor of Tekla, whom he claims to have never met. Adolph has been ill, cannot seem to walk without crutches and has given up painting for sculpture due to a lack of inspiration. Gustav analyzes Adolph's weak demeanor, especially his dependence upon Tekla, and has the gall to claim that she wears the trousers and has emasculated Adolph, stripping away his freedom through his attachment to her. He encourages Adolph to confront Tekla with charges of flirtation/adultery and to regain his masculinity by denying her sex for one year. Here's where Strindberg's real biting humor enters the picture, and we begin to catch on that Gustav knows more about Tekla and Adolph than at first glance. The whole idea of marriage becoming a burden for the artistic soul gets much attention in the play. When two lovers feel a debt to one another, it's time to move on to someone else. This feeling echoes in all three characters, or at least we are led to believe this until things start changing, and by play's end we learn that true love is there, but does not come easy, that there is a heavy price to pay. Strindberg uses the word 'creditors' at several junctures in the play as people who want what someone else has. It applies equally to Tekla, Adolph and Gustav.
The ensemble are dynamic in their choices. Jack Stehlin steals the play as Gustav with his so-called solid, paternal attitude toward Adolph and his problems, at first appearing to be a mentor to the younger man, but watch what happens! He is a horse of a different color, a con artist of the highest order. Never overdoing anything, never exaggerating a point, Stehlin plays it straight down the line, manipulating the action and us from start to finish. Grinstead really gets into Adolph's frustration with artistic choices and bewilderment about what it takes to be a man, a survivor. He plays the weakling exceedingly well, culminating in a great fiery scene with Tekla. Grinstead continues to deliver fully fleshed-out performances in a short but stellar LA stage career thus far. Prete is stunning as Tekla. Her coquette is consistently fascinating, as she disguises her true feelings until the end. Trainer has directed superbly keeping the action and plot twists moving ahead at full speed. The pacing is great; there is never a dull moment. Thomas A. Walsh's set design is super with the ocean off the balcony behind reminding one of an expressionistic painting. Merrily Murray-Walsh's costumes blend beautifully with the decor.
Strindberg did not want the steady stream of action to be interrupted in his play by including an intermission, so he kept it one act. Good choice as it all works fluidly. Creditors is at once a mesmerizing and entertaining piece of theatre.