Adolph (Burt Grinstead) is depressed, though he won’t outright confess as much. He finds himself in a seaside cottage, vacationing with his wife, though she is rarely at his side. A painter who has sought new inspiration in sculpture, Adolph understands how his wife Tekla (Heather Anne Prete), a novelist, uses words to craft subtext just for him to consider. And he has taken his silent cue from her to be around as little as possible when she is socializing with others. He has accepted that cue because he loves her. If it will make her happy for him to not be around, why won’t he do whatever it takes to make her happy? After all, for Adolph, Tekla’s happiness is cornerstone of their relationship… right?
Adolph’s exhaustive devotion to his wife’s success and well-being has in fact debilitated him to the point of being physically infirming, relegating him to the use of crutches. And it is in his small day room that he finds an unexpected sympathetic of a doctor named Gustav (Jack Stehlin). The physician sees through Adolph’s mask of contentment and begins to dig at the root of the young artist’ woe: his wife Tekla.
Gustav illuminated what he sees as Tekla’s obvious malice and contempt for Adolph. The physician speaks with unwavering clinical certainty and such familiarity of Tekla’s behavior that Adolph has no logical recourse but to be convinced and is ultimately persuaded to confront his wife upon her return.
And return Tekla does, floating on the success of another social gathering wherein she was the center of attention. Little does she know the hornet’s nest she is walking into, nor does Adolph have any idea of how they are both being manipulated at the hands of an accidental stranger. Will Adolph and Tekla discover that this particular doctor has willfully turned the oath of first do no harm against them before it’s too late?
The plot of August Strindberg’s Creditors is simply that in a nutshell. The nutshell itself is rather enormous. Gustav is Strindberg’s Iago, spinning a web of doubt and half-truths for the sole purpose of undoing the blessed union of Adolph and Tekla. The trap that Tekla finds herself is camouflaged by her secret lingering affection, and the fresh sting of her fight with Adolph, however the trapping within which this story unfolds is heady and cumbersome. Strindberg is not for your fair-weather theatregoer. Stringberg text is notoriously intricate; not so much for the meter or structure, but more for the intellectual density employed to depict the very emotional situations.
Getting through a single setting, 95 minute one-act would tax the stamina any veteran theatre enthusiast, and yet that is where the inspired performances of truly fine actors come in. The three-person cast of Creditors are all you need to stay engaged in this tangled psychological tale. Kudo to Grinstead, Stehlin and Prete for facing the behemoth task of extracting the humor and tragedy of the piece, and delivering with skill and sensitivity.
Creditors, a New American Theatre and Odyssey Theatre co-production is running now through December 15, 2014 at:
2055 South Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025