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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
CREDITORS
at BAM

BATTLE OF THE SEXES
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Owen Teale and Tom Burke/ Ph: Stephanie Berger

If you’ve tended to dismiss Strindberg as a founding member of the He-Man Women Haters Club (late nineteenth-century Scandinavian division), you’ll want to see what David Greig has accomplished in dusting off Creditors for a Donmar Warehouse 2008 production, now imported intact to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Though Ben Stones’ beautiful set – a whitewashed seaside salon resembling a Carl Larsson interior – is certainly nostalgic, the psychosexual concerns tormenting the three characters couldn’t be more contemporary. The war of the sexes, after all, knows no boundaries of time or place. This particular tussle – directed by actor Alan Rickman with a glinting intelligence – does more to showcase the strengths of the modern woman than to condemn her shortcomings.
 
The play – a character study stylistically advanced for its vintage, 1889 – opens as an urbane new acquaintance, Gustav (Owen Teale), plays volunteer therapist to Adolph (Tom Burke), an impressionable, neurasthenic young artist. Having already persuaded Adolph to abandon painting in favor of sculpture (a bold, self-proffering fertility figure is unveiled), Gustav is now digging deeper. He’s trying to convince the young man that it’s his subservience to his novelist wife – absent but due to return soon – that’s mucking up his own artistic potential. Gustav’s pointers are packed with hilarious notions: the idea, for instance, that a tendency toward “excess” in love can lead to epilepsy, with abstinence the only reliable preventative.
 
Gustav has Adolph worked up into quite a froth by the time Tekla (Anna Chancellor) breezes in, a far cry from the master manipulator that the worldly older man – who has withdrawn to another room to listen in as consultant – has painted. Tekla and Adolph have a passionate rapport, even if her pet name for him is “little brother” (we all have endearments best left behind closed doors). She proves a bright and charming mate, especially given her history; she survived a bad prior marriage by making literary meat of her “idiot” ex-husband.
 
All this is mere set-up: the fracas that ensues will strike a familiar chord in anyone forced to listen in on marital strife as a child, or ineluctably drawn into recapitulating it as an adult. Greig’s dialogue – and, it’s clearer now, Strindberg’s – crackles with unspeakable tension. Any relationship involves a battle between surrender vs. control, interdependence vs. autonomy, often conducted at such a fierce pitch that one’s very survival seems threatened. This play, in these hands, serves to heighten and illuminate the stakes.

 


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