The last chance is upon you, fellow New Yorkers, to see the Donmar Warehouse’s nearly pitch perfect revival of Strindberg’s “Creditors” now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music until May 16th. Stephen, MY FRIEND LUKE! and I took in a performance last week and are still talking about it. This is probably Strindberg’s most famous naturalistic play besides Miss Julie and he referred to it himself as his “most mature work.” Though I don’t know if I agree with that per say, the play does read as contemporary, streamlined and vicious.
The new translation by David Greig hits all of the right notes, sounding fresh but avoiding the pitfalls of translations that think obsessive swearing or dumbing down of language are the ways to reach a modern audience.
Alan Rickman (who has done much more than star in the Harry Potter films for all of you who were unaware) directs this production with a deft hand, demonstrating a strong understanding of the source material and a keen knowledge of what it takes to physicalize conversations in order to keep them moving and immediate. Though at times I noticed some movement anticipated itself a bit too much to feel truly spontaneous, the cast of three were so strong that those few moments easily took a back seat in my mind. The set and costume designs were both flawless, feeling equally contemporary and timeless. Washes of grey, black and white, painted a stark unflinching picture, perfectly mirroring the confrontations and exposed secrets of the characters inhabiting this world.
Though Stephen and I enjoyed the production very much, there were two key issues that we found troubling. One relates back to the text itself and the other is purely a problem of this current production.
Our textual issue has to do with a device that was very common in the naturalistic works being written at the time (1889) that Creditors premiered. It mainly has to do with a character physically embodying an emotional state as a sort of theatrical device. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that a set of crutches and a violent, ambiguous physical breakdown are the two occurrences that seem to make the audience most aware of the time that this play was written in. This would probably be more forgivable if they were hidden in the middle but unfortunately these events bookend the action making it hard to shrug them off.
The problem that relates directly to this production has to do with the casting of Anna Chancellor in the role of Tekla. While Mrs Chancellor is undoubtably a talented and informed actress who makes consistent and strong choices throughout the course of the evening, Sebastian and I both felt that Tekla’s sexual energy, an extremely important key to both male characters obsessions with her, is sadly missing. We just didn’t buy Chancellor as a dangerously sexual woman. When she opened her skirt to her husband and slapped her own ass the audience seemed to regard it with a shrug rather than an adjustment to their trousers. All of the press seem to be hailing Chancellor’s performance as precise and revelatory but this only confuses me further. Critics have focussed on how three dimensional Tekla seems in this production, and while it is clear that she has much more going on for her than her sexuality, this is no excuse for its near nonexistence.
Tekla is indeed a complex woman, she is split between her physical and mental needs. We as audience members should be split on these issues as well instead of only being able to see half of them. It should be noted that this is an issue of miscasting and direction and not a soul fault of Chancellor’s. All theater is collaborative and subjective, so I realize that this complaint may not find common ground in other’s opinions. This is also not to say that it in any way ruins what is a great night at the theater, however, this is the main complaint I’ve been mulling over in my head for the past few days.
Creditors is a smartly mounted, contemporary interpretation of a classic work. It is rare that we get to see Strindberg staged with such clear vision or power. The play feels often as if it could have been written any time within the past hundred or so years and moves with such a swiftness (90 minutes, no intermission) that anyones quibbles will be quickly put to rest. If we were drawn closer to the intensity of Tekla’s sexual prowess, this production would be perfect. See it regardless.