Chicago Theater Review: CREDITORS (Remy Bumppo)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 16, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

COMPRESSED CRUELTY IN A SMALL STRINDBERG SHOCKER

August Strindberg, the “father of modern psychological drama,” told his publisher that Creditors, a drama that he prized as much as he did his masterpiece Miss Julie (also written in 1888) was “humorous, loveable, all of its characters sympathetic.” Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo's "Creditors" in ChicagoNothing could be further from the truth – as Sandy Shinner’s supple staging of David Greig’s adaptation amply proves.

But that doesn’t make Remy Bumppo’s all-absorbing offering any less worthy. On the contrary, like Strindberg’s much more assured Miss Julie, this one-act drives home the author’s almost misogynistic obsession with the psychology of sex and the malleability of human will.

The benign setting for this “Swedish noir” is a seaside hotel, which is one reason, besides the play’s focus on ex-lovers’ unfinished business, that Creditors amazingly anticipates Noel Coward’s Private Lives, some 40 years later. A former painter, now turned sculptor, Adolph (Gabriel Ruiz), has recently married the somewhat older Tekla (Linda Gillum), a novelist and flirt whom he loves all too uncritically.

When Adolph, symbolically and literally on crutches, meets an older hotel guest and supposed doctor named Gustav (Mark L. Montgomery), his honeymoon ends in wicked revelations. Gustav worries that Adolph’s new marriage might have given him “epilepsy” and “anemia” because, having observed Tekla on the prowl, he Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo's "Creditors" in Chicagopronounces her an emasculating harridan, no “doll wife” á la Ibsen as Adolph seems to prefer. She is a predator of passion and no one man can be quarry enough. Love, Strindberg implies, is the first stage of betrayal – and marriage is a virtual minefield.

It’s fascinating to watch this Svengali-like Gustav perform what he brazenly calls an “autopsy on a human soul” – both Adolph’s and Tekla’s. With smooth-faced assurance he proceeds to undermine Adolph’s illusions about love and art as he counters then reverses Adolph’s pride in how Tekla has given him hope and altered his art. He describes Tekla’s first husband as an idiot and predicts that Adolph fall to the same folly of trusting Tekla. For him, Adolph’s infatuation is just the rose-colored distraction that will allow Tekla to pursue every pretty boy in the spa. The girl can’t help it if her “creditors” call in their debts and expose her machinations.

When Tekla finally appears, we see her through Adolph’s doubts, even as she presents herself as a bold and independent free spirit who gives Adolph no credit for her own success. Her first novel, an instant success, was a satire of her first husband, enough to make this second one a bit wary. Of course, this masterly manipulating Gustav has his own agenda of revenge: We discover it in an Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo's "Creditors" in Chicagoastonishing last-minute twist that leads to a tragedy that’s much less convincing.

Shinner’s trio carries out this dark, neo-Darwinian comedy with effortless efficiency, a polish that makes the crude psychodynamics all the more repellent. Gillum has never looked lovelier, as her Tekla exercises all her wiles on Ruiz’ smitten but suspicious Adolph. The proverbial serpent in the garden – and a sort of Nietzschean “superman” and 19th century Iago – Montgomery is Machiavelli himself as he sinisterly turns a happy husband into a haunted casualty. The road to his ruin is pure Strindberg, enough to make each of the show’s 90 minutes either crackle, growl or explode.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Remy Bumppo's "Creditors" in Chicagophotos by Johnny Knight

Creditors
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
at Greenhouse Theater Center
scheduled to end on June 2, 2013
for tickets, call 773-404-7336
or visit http://www.remybumppo.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,
visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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