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Strindberg’s “Creditors” on Long Island

August Strindberg’s 1888 drama Creditors is updated to modern Long Island in this adaptation, newly translated and directed by Robert Greer, and on stage from April 27 to May 14 by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre at Theater for the New City.

It’s 2023 and Gustav, a professor of classics and archaeology, travels in disguise to Montauk, where his faithless ex-wife, celebrity novelist Tekla, and her eminent painter husband Adolf are summering. During Tekla’s absence on a book tour, Gustav worms his way into Adolf’s confidence and undermines their already shaky marriage, with fatal consequences.
The play, a masterpiece from Strindberg’s naturalist period, is rarely excelled in its unity of construction, dramatic tension and acute psychological analysis, but it is far less performed and anthologized than The Father or Miss Julie. The drama is set in a parlor and adjoining rooms of a seaside resort. Adolph, a painter-turned-sculptor, is falling under the spell of Gustav, an ill-natured older man whom he has just met. In the guise of friendly male conversation Gustav, Iago-like, makes Adolph dissect his love for his new wife Tekla. She is a novelist whose star is rising while Adolph’s is falling. We learn that Tekla is Gustav’s former wife and she has written a roman a clef about him, characterizing him as an idiot. In an act of revenge, the older man is manipulating the artist to believe that his wife has selfishly robbed him of his creative strength in an act of erotic vampirism.
The men agree that Adolph will hide in the antechamber and eavesdrop while Gustav engages Tekla to demonstrate “how to handle a woman.” Instead of confronting her, Gustav charms her into a farewell tryst. When Tekla awakens to the plot, it is too late–Adolph, listening at the keyhole, succumbs to an offstage attack of epilepsy. The play whirls with mind and power games and is a brilliant statement on the kinetics of conjugal dependency. But it is written in a tottering rhetoric which has led to a swollen and lofty tone in translations to-date. This has been a barrier to its popularity, and Robert Greer’s translation aims to render the play into a more contemporary voice for the benefit of sophisticated New York audiences.

Natalie Menna plays the celebrity novelist, Tekla. Brad Fryman* plays her husband, the eminent painter Adolf. Mike Roche* plays her ex-husband Gustav, the distinguished professor of classical languages and archaeology. The three appeared together last fall in Strindberg Rep’s “Hedda 1981,” presented by Theater for the New City (Menna as Hedda, Fryman as Judge Brack and Roche as Lovborg). Lighting Design is by Omar Jaslin. Stage Manager is Jose Ruiz.
This adaptation was developed, in part, in a work-in-progress in TNC’s 2018 Dream Up Festival, when it was styled in its original period.
The director dedicates this production to the memory of Marna Feldt.

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