By August Strindberg; Adaptation by David Greig; Directed by Kevin Confoy
Produced by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble
Off Off Broadway, Classic Play
Runs through 2.10.16
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street
by Sarah Moore on 1.29.16
Elise Stone and Josh Tyson in Creditors. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
BOTTOM LINE: Phoenix Theatre Ensemble's production of Strindberg's Creditors is fresh, effective, and worth checking out.
August Strindberg doesn’t necessarily have a reputation for being contemporary or exciting, but Creditors is all about sex, lies and revenge. If you’re not familiar with the play, you’ll have no problem following playwright David Greig's (The Events) “new version,” which had its New York premiere at BAM in 2010.
The adaptation is appropriately overdramatic, suspenseful, and surprisingly funny. The language feels appropriate and not dated. Greig manages to make the problems of these characters feel modern, such as the day to day tortures of marriage.
Creditors focuses on the marriage of Adolph (Josh Tyson) and Tekla (Elise Stone). In the opening scene of the play, we don’t see Tekla, we only hear about her from her husband, who is commiserating about marital issues and personal problems with his new friend Gustav (Craig Smith).
As the boyish Adolph, Tyson pours out his heart and his mind to Gustav. Adolph is frequently referred to by his wife as “little brother” and the physicality of Tyson’s portrayal captures this well. The way he leans on his cane also reminds us that his illness is a part of his character. Adolph was a painter, until he met Gustav, who convinced him he should be a sculptor. Tyson gives an excellent emotional performance, as we watch him unravel as the manipulative Gustav convinces him that that his marriage to Tekla is falling apart.
(If you haven’t read the play, I’m going to be careful not to spoil it, because part of the experience is watching it play out. Don’t read the Wikipedia page before you go.)
When Tekla arrives home, she and Adolph get into a fight because of what Gustav has put into his head, about how she doesn’t love him and how she’s an adulteress. Stone gives a warm and charismatic portrayal of Tekla that shows the audience how men can fall in love with her so easily.
The play is set at a beachside resort, an apartment/art studio. The scenic and lighting designer is Tsubasa Kamei (with co-scenic designer/costume designer Jennifer Stimple Kamei). The set makes excellent use of the small space and allows the action to flow across different areas, highlighted by stunning neon colored lights in the back hallway.
The darkness and melodrama of Strindberg’s tragicomedy is a fine line to walk, and director Kevin Confoy does a great job keeping the tone from sliding into the ridiculous. The play itself is surprisingly contemporary, given that it was written by Strindberg in 1888. The characters show how people can suck the life out of each other. It’s not just the wife who preys on her husband (as Strindberg has the reputation for exploring) but her husband carries some blame as well. The play explores the parasitical relationships between husband and wife in a remarkably modern way, with each of the characters referring to one another as the titular creditors. Phoenix Theatre Ensemble has not only picked a brave Strindberg play to take on, but they wisely chose an excellent version.
(Creditors plays at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, through February 10, 2016. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Creditors plays in rep with The Gambler; performance times vary. Tickets are $25 and are available at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/15 or by calling 866-811-4111. For more information visit phoenixtheaterensemble.org.)
Creditors is written by August Strindberg, and adapted by David Greig. Directed by Kevin Confoy. Set design and lighting design is by Tsubasa Kamei. Co-scenic design and costume design is by Jennifer Stimple Kamei. Sound design is by Jesse Heffler. Props manager is Cassy Lynch. Production stage manager is Mark Brystowski.
The cast includes Sergio Fuenzalida, Craig Smith, Elise Stone, and Josh Tyson.