A perfect piece of dramatic theatre is happening at the intimate Bernstein space at Shakespeare & Co. -August Strindberg’s CREDITORS, written in 1888. Intricately composed, invisibly directed and superbly acted, this tautly adapted version by Scottish playwright David Greig was first staged at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2008. Credit to the acumen of artistic director Allyn Burrows for importing it to the Berkshires.
Strindberg, like his contemporary Ibsen, was way ahead of his time in probing the psychological recesses of adult relationships. Set in the lounge at seaside hotel, around the turnoff the 19th century, Gustav, a novelist of advancing middle age, entraps the younger, sensitive sculptor Adolph in candid discussion of his marriage to an older woman whom Gustav seems to know more about than he reveals to Adolph. At the risk of being coy, I’ll leave it at that for those that are unfamiliar with the tale because it’s as suspenseful narratively as it is psychologically. Indeed, in the first ten minutes adaptor Greig reveals in the vocabulary Gustav and Adolph use the topics the dramatic terrain will cover - fidelity, jealousy, (un)happiness, women’s independence, and male superiority. What’s love got to do with it?
All three actors are excellent. Jonathan Epstein as Gustav hits the right notes of both cynical charm and sinister enigma. Ryan Winkles as Adolph has the most difficult role of inhabiting a narrow space between fragility and instability. Kristin Wold has the plum role of Adolph’s wife, Tekla. She’s “the older woman” but still coquettish. She’s survived in a society where women are not only ruled by men, but also shaped by them. (Strindberg’s deliberate in making Adolph a sculptor who’s actually working on a nude figure of Tekla.) Wold’s smart comportment signals perfectly a woman who’s more sophisticated than the social order in which she’s placed. Director Nicole Ricciardi leaves no fingerprints on the staging. Movement is seamless, pacing flawless.
Love's revenge is a timeless theme, and CREDITORS recalls lots of Shakespeare, plays like LES LIASONS DANGEREUSES, and even the movie ALL ABOUT EVE, when critic Addison de Witt extracts his pound of flesh from Eve Harrington before her opening night in New Haven. But the wrenching conclusion of CREDITORS makes plain the stakes don’t get much higher - even for the unwitting.
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