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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
By Macey Levin

The creditors always appear. — Gustav
Jonathan Epstein and Ryan Winkles
August Strindberg is considered to be one of Sweden's greatest literary figures having authored plays, novels, poetry and essays. He followed Henrik Ibsen's lead writing in vernacular prose while exploring naturalism, assuming an impersonal position in a depiction of realism in which his character's fate has been planned by forces other than human actions. This style, which he later abandoned for symbolic and then expressionistic works, is the philosophical basis of Creditors, adapted by David Greig at Shakespeare and Company's Bernstein Theatre in Lenox, Massachusetts. It's a flawed production of an out-dated play.

Adolph (Ryan Winkles, and his wife Tekla are vacationing in a seaside hotel. Adolph, who is on crutches, is a successful artist, who has been convinced by Gustav (Jonathan Epstein), a new-found friend, that the quality of his work has declined and he should become a sculptor. This is just the first step in his destruction since Gustav then inquires about his marriage to Tekla, who has been away for several days and will return shortly.

Gustav undermines Adolph's love for his wife by questioning him about her first marriage and casting doubts on her fidelity. Adolph's assurance weakens while Gustav continues to prey on his "misplaced" emotions, instilling the thought in him that he is a borderline epileptic whose life is virtually over.

As Tekla (Kristin Wold) is about to return, Gustav, who will retreat to the next room, suggests that Adolph test her to determine if she has been faithful. She is a disarming and vibrant woman who professes her love for Adolph, though he casts doubt on the legitimacy of her commitment to him. He insists they leave that evening at 8:00 to return home. She is reluctant. He storms out on the pretense that he is going for a walk and that he will meet her at the ferry when he is actually going to a nearby room to listen to Gustav's conversation with her.

It is revealed that Gustav is Tekla's first husband. After they parry for a few minutes, their meeting becomes congenial as they reflect on their past. Soon, however, they turn on each other and accusations fly across the room. Gustav informs her that what mankind does is beyond his choice. It is within their genetic structure that decisions are made, as Tekla says, "I just did what my nature demanded." It's a thought the others also reveal about themselves.

Each of the protagonists calls the other a creditor because they are collecting a debt in the form of vengeance for the pain and loss they have suffered. Gustav lost Tekla to Adolph; Adolph rejects her vows of love, and she accuses Gustav of emotionally abusing her when they were married, and he is victimizing her because she left him.

Greig's adaptation is verbose and repetitive, especially toward the latter part of the work when it could use some judicious cutting. We never find out why Adolph is on crutches and why Tekla doesn't react when he throws them down and walks normally. Nor is it revealed how Gustav and Adolph formed their relationship. This, actually, is part of Strindberg's naturalism philosophy that the present is what matters and the past is referred to only selectively.

Winkles seems tentative in the early part of the production, but when he is emotionally eviscerated, first by Gustav and then Tekla, his performance becomes stronger and much more effective. Epstein's shifts between the cordial support of Adolph and cruel vindictiveness occur smoothly. He also manipulates Tekla in the same way. There are a number of laughs in the beginning of the work, mostly throwaway lines by Epstein whose comic timing is precise, but he sometimes uses a lower vocal tone, especially toward the end of lines. Wold is ingratiating and coy with both men until it becomes necessary to exhibit strength and defensiveness. She delivers a well-constructed performance.

The direction by Nicole Ricciardi maintains a strong pace until the script becomes long-winded. The play could be quite melodramatic but Ricciardi and her cast avoid that pitfall as they are in control of their emotional moments.

Set designer John McDermott's spare room allows the director to smoothly move the cast so that the stage pictures are well-defined. The costumes by Deborah Brothers define the character's personalities and attitudes. James W. Bilnoski's lighting and Amy Altadonna's sound design subtly enhance the production.

Though the play has its flaws, this is your chance to see a seldom-performed production by one of the world's foremost and highly controversial playwrights.

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Creditors byAugust Strindberg; adapted by David Greig
Directed by Nicole Ricciardi
Cast: Ryan Winkles (Adolph) Jonathan Epstein (Gustav) Kristin Wold (Tekla)
Scene design: John McDermott
Costume design: Deborah Brothers
Lighting design: James W. Bilnoski
Sound design: Amy Altadonna
Stage Manager: Maegan Alyse Passafume
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Shakespeare & Company; Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre; Lenox , MA
From 7/19/18; closing 8/12/18
Reviewed by Macey Levin at July 22, 2018 performance

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