Owen Teale and Tom Burke in Creditors
(© Hugo Glendinning)
Owen Teale and Tom Burke in Creditors
(© Hugo Glendinning)
Good-natured bonhomie devolves into rancor, bitterness, and sadness in August Strindberg's Creditors, playing at BAM's Harvey Theatre. Directed with precision by Alan Rickman who uses an eminently colloquial and performable new version by David Greig, the production consistently intrigues from start to finish (in 90 minutes) as the truths behind the relationships between a trio of characters, and the intellectual and emotional debts they owe one another, are brought into sharp and painful focus.

The action unfolds in the drawing room of a seaside hotel (elegantly rendered in an array of beiges and whites by scenic designer Ben Stone and sumptuously lit by Howard Harrison). It's here where we meet Adolph (Tom Burke), a sickly and nervously neurotic artist, and the significantly more poised and methodical Gustav (Owen Teale), a new acquaintance of Adolph's who has already developed a certain power over the younger man. For instance, Adolph has already ditched his painting career for sculpture at Gustav's urging and is seriously considering Gustav's recommendation to cease sexual relations with his wife Tekla (Anna Chancellor) in order that he regain the upper hand in the marriage.

As the men talk during a wait for Tekla's return, we are not only fascinated by Gustav's often surprising advice, but also his curious knowledge of the couple's life together as well as his concerted interest in them. As the conversation progresses, Gustav becomes increasingly aggressive. (Teale's slow and carefully calculated acceleration of Gustav's intensity can be chilling.) In addition, one begins to wonder not only if the reports of Tekla's coquettish and domineering nature are true, but also if Gustav's intimation of possible infidelity has any basis in fact.

Just before she arrives, Gustav hides himself in an adjoining room so that he can listen in to Adolph's confrontation with Tekla. When she does appear, sweeping in with unexpected warmth and geniality, she's simultaneously everything that the overly smitten and jealous Adolph has said, and much more: loving, charming and absolutely captivating.

As tempers flare between husband and wife, fueled primarily by the seeds of doubt that Gustav has planted, what theatergoers realize is that the couple has a love for one another that's both tender and, for them, deliciously and satisfyingly, volatile and mercurial. Throughout, Burke and Chancellor maneuver the hairpin emotional and intellectual turns of Strindberg's script with deftness and an almost electric energy.

The final sequence of the play focuses on Gustav and Tekla, and it's during this scene that Strindberg reveals the extent to which they have hidden certain truths from Adolph. It's the secrets that they've held close to their breasts, independent of one another, that result in a tragedy that some theatergoers will have foreseen but one that, nevertheless, troublingly lingers well after the performance has ended.