In this world, it seems everyone is indebted to someone for something; a job, a simple favor or an important introduction. The grateful understand this and are appreciative, often "paying it forward." However, not everyone who goes out of his or her way for another does so with a kind heart. Generosity of spirit may be misread, or at other times, the creditor plans to collect somewhere, sometime. The central theme of Creditors, written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, weaves a demanding tale of love—controlling love and abandoned love—and, unfortunately, exacting revenge as when the creditor makes a well-planned and malicious visit. Creditors is currently playing at The Wild Project through Feb.14 and is presented by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble.
Through the filtered afternoon light of vertical blinds, disheveled artist Adolph (Josh Tyson), is fumbling with a new sculpture surrounded by finished and unfinished paintings. He is an accomplished artist who has driven himself to the edge of sanity and good health producing painting after painting, yet full of self-doubt and insecurity now toying with the idea of sculpture. His acquaintance, Gustav (Craig Smith), in an off-white summer suit and untied bow tie meanders the stage, replenishing his cocktail often. Goading Adolph in a familial manner, Smith embodies the part as an art dealer might, critiquing the work and then, just as easily, reverts to roll of doctor imparting medical diagnoses. He appears to know more than the casual friend often chiding the fragile Adolph, or at times, touching him intimately on the face. Eventually, Gustav maneuvers the conversation to Adolph’s wife Tekla, who has been away on a short holiday. Here is where Gustav frenetically whips up the dialogue to further lead Adolph down a rabbit hole of despair, teetering into the world of jealousy. It is clear that Adolph’s health and mental state are at risk.
Tekla (Elise Stone) brightly arrives after Gustav scurries off to secretly observe the interaction of the couple. In his fragile state, Adolph attempts to test her fidelity. Tekla, obviously older than her husband, desires to be adored and has no interest in sitting at home or being lectured about her flirtations. Stone’s voice is alluring even when her dialogue is burdened with childlike terms of endearment; she refers to them as "brother/sister." Tekla floats nervously across the stage in a diaphanous gown hoping to appease her husband as their disagreements intensify.
Woven throughout the dialogue is the reoccurring argument—who "made" whom. The older, educated Gustav used his position in a Pygmalion manner to bring language and style to her when she was young, a world she later abandoned. It appears as if Adolph picks up where Gustav left off. Adolph’s success as an artist may have allowed Tekla the time to write a successful book while introducing her to society but at what cost? Gustav’s students poked fun at him when they realize he was characterized in her book as a stupid fool. Anger, resentment and revenge have been fomenting—the creditor is demanding payment. Stone, Tyson and Smith deliver.
In 1888, Strindberg created a fast paced and uncomfortable, revenge-driven script in Creditors. (The current translation is by David Greig.) Kevin Confoy took complete advantage of the brisk dialogue with his direction by giving the actors the space to move about and the motivation behind the written words.
The set is a villa at the shore strewn with art and art supplies, an ample bar cart and a fainting couch. At the back of the stage hanging on a line are simple line drawings on paper. On either end of the drawings, the two stage entrances; one to the lobby of the villa and arriving ferry, while the other implies more rooms of the suite.
The entrances are lit with colors that change with a scene and during a scene. While emphasizing the mood of the dialogue, the lighting change is too noticeable at times. An interesting use of lighting is in the second scene where the bottom of the art, hanging at the rear of the stage, is lit in a razor’s edge blue underscoring an ugly undercurrent of the script. Credit for both set and lighting design goes to Tsubasa Kamei.
Although not an endearing play, Creditors is captivating and full of well-crafted characters. Stone brings the middle-aged woman not wanting to be considered old, and longing to be desired, to full breadth. The young, tortured artist and husband, who really does love his wife, is fully present in Tyson. Smith, the jilted, revengeful lover delivers a multi-faceted character to the stage through his frenetic action and vocal cadence. He easily transitions from devious to charming and almost caring as he exacts his final, gloating revenge.
Creditors is presented by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble and runs through Feb. 14 with a mix of evening and matinee performances at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd St. between Aves. A and B) in Manhattan. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 212-352-3101 or visiting http://www.thewildproject.com/performances/2016-CREDITORS.shtml.