Sunday, April 25, 2010

Breakneck Misogyny



Written by August Strindberg, in a new version by David Greig
Directed by Alan Rickman
Starring Tom Burke, Anna Chancellor, Owen Teale

April16-May 16, 2010
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn

The plays of August Strindberg--with their explosive provocations on the always-shifting dynamics between men and women--are as relevant and modern as ever. His little-seen Creditors, in a new version by British playwright David Greig playing at BAM, pretty much confirms that.

Strindberg’s volatile relationships with women are front and center in Creditors’ misogynistic treatment of its (anti)heroine, novelist Tekla, current wife of artist Adolph and former wife of middle-aged teacher Gustav, whom we first see ingratiating himself with the younger man, literally breaking down every last one of Adolph’s defenses by destroying Tekla’s character in her impressionable husband’s eyes. Manipulating Adolph in a brazen attempt to put a fatal wedge in their unbalanced marriage--as a writer and outspoken woman, Tekla is too “liberated” for her and Adolph‘s own good, the ex-husband says--Gustav has singleminded vengeance on his mind; by the time the play’s first half ends, he has nearly gotten his wish: Adolph is ready to toss her aside.

Then the fun (at least according to Strindberg) begins. Tekla returns, and she and Adolph battle for awhile, followed by--after Adolph leaves--the long-awaited showdown between the former spouses. Strindberg brilliantly builds this scene’s drama and intensity. Tekla, at first reluctant, soon allows herself to submit to her first husband, only pulling back at the last second when finally realizing that Gustav’s manipulation of her and Adolph is simply a form of retribution against her because she left Gustav and Adolph for being his replacement.

In this trenchant staging by director Alan Rickman, Creditors feels like the most contemporary of Strindberg’s stage dramas. At first, this “tragic comedy” resembles a drawing-room farce, only with much acidic wit--indeed, the laughs come too easily to a large segment of BAM’s audience, overdoing it in response to such black, bleak lines--then almost imperceptibly shifts gears into something more serious and horrific, as the laughs become more unsettling. During Gustav and Tekla’s showdown, the battle lines between the sexes have rarely been drawn so cuttingly and precisely.

Anna Chancellor has the most difficult role, entering the fray after being mercilessly dissected for the first hour: but her Tekla is less archetypal than real. There is no false modesty in her portrayal of a strong-willed, sensuous woman filled with her own sense of both entitlement and neediness. The two men are drawn more sketchily in Strindberg’s universe, yet Owen Teale’s Gustav and Tom Burke’s Adolph balance each other most forcefully as the yin and yang in Tekla’s life.

In 90 breakneck minutes, Creditors takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the psyches of three stimulating characters--and one endlessly provocative playwright.

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