There’s an almost nonstop barrage of misogyny on display in “Creditors,” the August Strindberg drama playing at Berkeley’s Aurora Theater Company in a new adaptation by David Greig, the Scottish playwright whose mass shooting drama “The Events” was recently produced at both the Curran and Shotgun Players.
A new friend has wormed his way into the confidence of Adolph, an insecure and suggestible young painter, and proceeds to chip away at the confidence in his wife, his art and his life. But mostly in his wife, to whom he’s utterly devoted.
Jonathan Rhys Williams’ Gustave speaks with a chillingly calm, seemingly friendly confidence, but everything he says is venomous, at first subtly but soon less so. He keeps coming back to the idea that men shaping women is the natural order of things, and any independence on the part of a wife is inherently emasculating. As Adolph’s older wife Tekla is extremely independent and strong-minded, much more so than he is, and flirtatious by nature, Gustave insists she’s making a fool of him.
Joseph Patrick O’Malley compellingly portrays Adolph’s descent from a adoring and wryly self-effacing sense of relative contentment to a jittery, jealous frenzy as Gustave skillfully twists every chatty confession into poison for his heart. Why Gustave is doing this is a matter for later on, but he does it deftly and utterly without mercy.
Gustave’s philosophy isn’t easily dismissed as being simply of its time; it’s rooted in a deep contempt for women and sounds unnervingly like the kind of misogynist bile you might hear “men’s rights activists” on Twitter spewing today. The title itself, a metaphor leaned on heavily in dialogue, is predicated on an entitled sense of being owed something.
Rebecca Dines is a breath of fresh air as Tekla when she finally arrives, charismatic, playful and keenly perceptive. Even as meticulously poisoned against her as his perceptions have become, Adolph quickly succumbs to her charm and to his love for her before his carefully nurtured insecurities come spilling out. Dines’ Tekla handles all this secondhand venom with cool, collected self-assurance, not letting on to whatever extent this sudden burst of jealous cruelty may hurt her.
The play is relentless, every single scene a study in either what not to say or what not to listen to. Each of the three parallel conversations that make up this tragicomic psychodrama starts off pleasant and soon becomes both unbearably cruel and nowhere near letting up anytime soon.
Director Barbara Damashek just accentuates that discomfort with the smothering atmosphere of her tense staging. Angrette McCloskey’s set of a sparsely furnished sitting room peppered with artworks in progress is all in pale off-white tones, as are most of Christine Crook’s costumes, with Tekla’s dress the only real splash of color.
From time to time, Jim Cave’s moody lighting is taken over by blue streaks lining the walls, combining with an electric hum in Matt Stine’s sound design to suggest Adolph’s agitation rising into some kind of fit or seizure.
The seminal Swedish playwright Strindberg wrote “Creditors” in 1888, …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment