A Loan, Again: Creditors

Craig Smith as Gustav and Josh Tyson as Adloph in Creditors at PTE.1

 

 

by Eric J. Grimm

 

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s production of August Strindberg’s Creditors makes a fine case for reviving the 127-year-old play. Strindberg’s brisk parlor drama, concerning the tortured men who love a free-spirited novelist, features some of his most incisive character work with regard to gender roles, particularly for a playwright so frequently labeled a misogynist. Here, his pathetic and insecure male characters are so determined to tear down the object of their affection and scorn that even in the face of a climactic tragedy the sole female character comes across as a far more rational and fully-formed human being. Director Kevin Confoy’s production could use some fine tuning but it is a solid exploration of Strindberg’s themes.

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The play is split into a series of three two-handers, all revolving around the novelist, Tekla (Elise Stone), who may or may not be cheating on her younger husband, the sickly artist Adolph (Josh Tyson). Gustav (Craig Smith), Adolph’s new friend, would have him believe so as he spends much of the first scene manipulating Adolph into confronting his charismatic wife. When Tekla arrives back at their hotel, she and Adolph have it out as Gustav hides just outside the parlor. Finally, Tekla and Gustav have an encounter that reveals Gustav’s true nature, a twist that is easily predicted from the outset. Strindberg’s gifts for character and scene construction are often obscured in this case by implausible melodrama and the metaphor of the “creditor” is so thoroughly beaten into the script that the play leaves little room for interpretation. As an Othello-esque drama, however, it succeeds in fleshing out its Desdemona and giving her agency.

 

The men here are sufficiently deplorable as they seek to maintain some sense of masculine dignity by attacking Tekla. Josh Tyson gives the infantilized Adolph a puppy dog quality that can make the character both pitiable and pesky as his counterparts so thoroughly dominate him throughout. Craig Smith is lizard-like as the conniving Gustav; he might have tried obscuring Gustav’s intentions or even complicating them but his villainous take bolsters the opposing qualities in the other characters. Elise Stone is the most successful at conveying her character’s complexity. Her shifts between supreme confidence and vulnerability are fluid and believable even as the final scene begins to feel contrived. Kevin Confoy gives the performers ample room to explore their characters’ power struggles with staging that highlights the shifting dominance and submission throughout the play. While there are a few too many scenes where characters engage in shouting matches where quieter moments would have ratcheted up the tension, the production works as an intimate character study.

 

The Creditors. Through February 12th at The Wild Project (195 E. 3rd St). www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org

 

*Photos Gerry Goodstein

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