In the secluded lounge of a seaside resort in Sweden an earnest older man is gently questioning a younger man on crutches. What their relationship is we don’t find out until much later. Why the young man is on crutches we never do find out.
The play is Creditors, August Strindberg’s classic three-person psychological drama that probes loving relationships, insecurities, jealousy, and a host of other potentially debilitating emotions. And the villain of the piece, Gustaf (the impeccable Jack Stehlin), evokes them all and plays them like a virtuoso violinist. Or a wizard.
Assuming the mantle of a psychiatrist, Gustaf has wormed his way into the confidence of the troubled Adolf (wonderfully played by Burt Grinstead), whose artistic endeavors have momentarily depleted him. Having hit a fallow period in his otherwise successful career, he is easily persuaded by Gustaf to abandon painting and take up sculpting.
From there Gustaf leads him into a discussion of his marriage to a narcissistic coquette named Tekla (Heather Anne Prete), who left her previous husband to marry him. Quickly, Gustaf discerns that underneath his protestations of love for Tekla, Adolf recognizes that she has been the “taker” in their relationship and he has given her so much of himself that he is literally an empty shell.
Unable to deny her anything, and unable to take charge of their affairs, he accepts that she calls him “little brother” and herself “big sister” and teases him by flirting with every man that crosses her path. She is what we would call a “ball-buster,” but they didn’t use that term in 1888, when all this takes place.
The convoluted conversation continues in all its fascinating diversity when Tekla returns. She has been away at a conference for the past few days and is startled to return to a man who is markedly different from the man she had left. He confronts her with the things he has determined from his conversation with Gustaf, and she misinterprets everything he says. Does she really love him? Does he love her?
The title, Creditors, refers, metaphorically, to what happens when the bills come due.
This is a marvelous play, but it’s hard to feel a lot of sympathy for these flawed individuals. Strindberg, as usual, deals in cold psychology and keeps a dispassionate distance from his principals. But their turmoil is vividly presented in this new version by David Greig, and director David Trainer has guided his cast with mesmerizing intensity through the tight 90 minutes of what Strindberg called a “naturalistic tragedy”.
Well written, well presented, and well worth your time.
Creditors is a joint production of The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and The New American Theatre. It will be presented at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 2, through Sunday, December 15.
In addition there will be Wednesday performances on October 30, November 13, and December 4, and Thursday performances on October 24, November 7 and 21, and December 12.
Call 310-477-2055 for reservations.
Photo: Heather Anne Prete, Jack Stehlin, and Burt Grinstead
Photo by Ron Sossi