Creditors by Strinberg evokes strong opinions at Aurora Theatre.

Jonathon Rhys Williams as Gustav (l) and Joseph Patrick O’Malley as Adolph in Creditors at Aurora Theatre. Photo by David Allen

Creditors: Drama by August Strindberg. A new version by David Greig. Directed by Barbara Damashek. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 843-4822 or at   January 25 – February 24, 2019

Creditors by Strinberg evokes strong opinions at Aurora Theatre. Rating: ★★★★☆

 Having previously reviewed Aurora Theatre’s gut-wrenching production of August Strindberg’s misogynistic play Miss Julie directed in stark reality by auteur Mark Jackson expectations for another shocking evening of theatre was fully met in all three sections of Creditors. One comment by a matronly woman overheard at the end of the play was, “I am going to find a place where I can slit my wrist!”

The misogyny abounds and is scattered throughout the play and amplified late in the 90 minute evening without intermission when the vilest character Gustav (Jonathan Rhys Williams)lashes out on his former wife Tekla (Rebecca Dines) using the phrases “a fat boy with overdeveloped breasts” and “chronically anemic from hemorrhaging 13 times a year” to describe females.

The third character in the play is Tekla’s second husband the physical challenged Adolph (Joseph Patrick O’Malley) an artist struggling with lack of self-confidence and is ripe for manipulation by vindictive Gustave.

Adolph and Tekla are the “creditors” to Gustave. Tekla was a girl when she married Gustave many years and he feels she “owes” him for making her into a successful woman who now is a popular novelist. Adolph is indebted to him for bringing him out of his artistic doldrums suggesting he should give up painting for sculpture. Gustave viciously extracts his pound of flesh in words that are more devastating than physical abuse. 

Those words denigrate Adolph’s sculpture and undermine Adolph’s loving opinion that the marriage with Telka has been mutually beneficial. He has been supportive of Telka and she is a true partner. Gustave does not allow Adolph to keep his good opinion of Telka and the point  the physically and mentally weak artist is fully ensnared in Gustave’s machinations.

After Gustave has completely gained his revengeful due from Adolph, Steinberg sets up a similar scene between Gustave and Telka who is a beautiful self-assured lady on entering the scene and she too capitulates to Gustave’s lies to the point that they might resume a relationship.  Surprisingly Strindberg allows Telka to show her mettle and intelligence thus rejecting Gustave’s advances to the point of almost doing him physical harm.

Unbeknownst to Telka, Gustave has arranged for Adolph to hear the previous conversation and there is a dramatic entrance by Adolph who collapses. The creditors have paid their dues and Strindberg ends the play with an ambiguous line that is almost a question.

The plot structure is questionable but the character development is forceful if not believable.  Words Gustave uses to cut to the quick and disembowel his prey are given strength, fear and intimidation with nuance by Jonathan Rhys Williams that you must hear to believe. Joseph Patrick O’Malley’s facial expressions and body language make you feel his transition from trusting friend to quivering victim. It is a joy to see the return of Rebecca Dynes to the Aurora stage. Her entrance adds class to the evening and in her confrontation with Gustave she exhibits strength and intelligence disallowing Strindberg’s misogyny to end the evening.

Barbara Damashek’s direction keeps the personal interaction between the characters in the forefront despite the fact that the stretches of dialog are excessive. The claustrophobic bland one room set is perfect to allow the language and acting to be dominate.

CAST: Rebecca Dines as Tekla; Joseph Patrick O’Malley as Adolph; Jonathan Rhys Williams as Gustav

CREATIVE TEAM: Barbara Damashek, Director; Angrette McCloskey, Set; Christine Cook, Costumes; Jim Cave, Lighting; Matt Stines, Sound. January 25 – February 24

Running time is 90 minutes without intermission and requires intense attention to fully appreciate a Strindberg play.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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