All photos by Liz Lauren.
As published in the December issue of the KM Perform Express Newsletter.
Tempered dialogue masks sexual, threatening undertones throughout August Strindberg’s Creditors at American Players Theatre’s Touchstone Theatre. These undertones are the venomous pulse of the performance, propelling the ensemble of three to inevitable tragedy.
Marcus Truschinski’s erratic Adolph opens the show, searching for meaning behind his art under the guiding hand of a suave Gustav (Jim DeVita). Conversation quickly moves to Adolph’s unusual marriage to Tekla (Tracy Michelle Arnold), an older, experienced woman who had left her first husband. Gustav, secretly being that ex-husband, carefully installs distrust in Adolph, and the play sets course for self destruction.
Gustav is the cunning puppetmaster of this work. He calculates the actions of his targets with scary accuracy, consistently one step ahead of Tekla and Adolph. DeVita’s performance is permeated with nuance, and through his eyes audience members can see little truths hiding beneath layers and layers of nearly sociopathic lies. For much of the show, patrons cling to the lingering feeling that there may be something genuine in Gustav. DeVita keeps that thought in question up until the very last moment of the show, where he finally reveals his character’s true nature.
The intricacies of this script are nothing short of genius. Strindberg leaves obvious ties between Gustav, Tekla, and Adolph throughout the text, but the true brilliance lies in characters’ shared vernacular. Each time a character uses a word that had “belonged” to another, it sits in the air heavily, like a beat, and seems to tie a new knot in the ever-tangled love triangle.
That idea of “belonging” is one of the major themes in this piece. Adolph, before the play has begun, has sculpted the bust of a woman. Then, as he and Gustav discuss Tekla’s value in the relationship, the bust is rolled back and forth between the two men, an object to be tossed aside when inconvenient. When Tekla is introduced to the piece, however, she doesn’t see herself in it, as Gustav and Adolph had: “Who is that meant for? How can I tell when there is no face?”. Director Maria Aitken uses this imagery to reflect how Gustav has poisoned Adolph into seeing Tekla as less than an individual with an identity, and no more than a canvas to be written upon by a man.
The concept of a blank canvas is illustrated by Robert Morgan’s simplistic set design: pale, sandy floorboards, with white plastered art, greyscale furniture, and delicate tapestry. Only a few statement pieces use bold colors. This provides a scene where focus is drawn to the actors, not the stage, and where Jason Fassl’s subtle cool and warm washes of lighting can make an impact.
Aitken’s direction on Creditors is captivating, and brings the audience’s attention to details Strindberg has left for further discovery. This performance exposes how brittle a marriage can be, and how easily it can come tumbling down.