August Strindberg’s CREDITORS is a revenge tragedy of classic proportions, a modern descendant of the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare. His unnerving story of a love triangle in late 19th-century Sweden is intense and brutal, yet sprinkled with passages of laughable behavior and pronouncements. Its production requires a company that is up to the task of conveying its profound emotions, performing its psychological dissections, and meeting its physical demands, while still being effective in delivering its humor and irony. The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective is just that company—the go-to group for flawless portrayals of flawed humanity and an unmatched understanding of the complexities of the classics.
Directed by PAC member Charlotte Northeast (in a brilliant directorial debut) and presented in the second-floor library of the historic Franklin Inn Club, the PAC’s CREDITORS makes full use of the intimate room and its adjoining spaces. The up-close-and-personal, site-specific staging makes us feel like eavesdroppers on the private encounters of Strindberg’s three characters, as we watch them come unraveled by jealousy, pain, love, and loss, and exact payment for the perceived debts accrued in their relationships. Showcasing the peerless talents of Northeast’s colleagues in the PAC, the Fringe Festival production features Dan Hodge as the frail artist Adolph, Krista Apple as his free-thinking wife Tekla (a novelist), and Damon Bonetti as the mysterious interloper Gustav, who inserts himself into the center of their troubled marriage.
Racked with bodily infirmities, tortured by self-doubt, and unsure of Tekla’s love and respect, Hodge’s weak and suggestible Adolph elicits both laughs and pathos for the sensitive artist—a broken man in desperate need of physical and emotional support, as he struggles around the room on canes, falls down hard, and bears a stress-induced seizure brought on by the misery he suffers at the hands of Gustav and Tekla. Playing opposite Hodge is his real-life fiancée Apple; her Tekla is independent, flirtatious, and mercurial in her praise and affection—qualities that translated to “emasculating” in Strindberg’s time (and maybe still in ours). She draws the audience’s laughter with her flitting and cooing and romantic baby-talk, and then its tears for the depths of her despair. Bonetti (Northeast’s actual husband) is chillingly sadistic and vindictive as the tyrant Gustav, whose secret past and present treachery drive the plot to its shocking conclusion. He, too, makes us laugh (at his all-too-obvious manipulations) and gasp (at his contemptuousness and cruelty).
Along with his semi-autobiographical experiences with marriage and liberated women, Strindberg interweaves his beliefs about religion, realism, and the respective values of the artistic media into his CREDITORS; the PAC brings focus and significance to each of the playwright’s sub-themes. The expressive quality of the arts is especially underlined by the PAC through its interdisciplinary collaboration with sculptor Roger Wing (the company’s artist-in-residence, whose impressive works are displayed throughout the FIC as those of the fictional Adolph), and in the period costumes and stylings of designer Katherine Fritz, who harmonizes her creations with the mood of the room and the personalities of the characters.
After its previous productions of THE DUCHESS OF MALFI and CHANGES OF HEART, we’ve come to expect nothing less than perfection from the PAC, and, once again, we got it. “You’re a novelist,” Gustav tells Tekla. “It’s your work to explore the human soul.” That’s precisely what Strindberg and the PAC have done par excellence in this dark and disturbing play. [The Franklin Inn Club, 2nd floor library, 205 South Camac Street] September 12-23, 2012http://livearts-fringe.ticketleap.com/creditors/#view=calendar, http://www.philartistscollective.org.