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By August Strindberg
BAM Harvey Theatre
651 Fulton St., Brooklyn
Box office: (718) 636-4100

This Donmar Warehouse production of Strindberg’s play Creditors (1888), directed by Alan Rickman, is the most intense and rewarding 90 minutes I’ve spent in a theater this year. Superbly adapted by the playwright David Greig, who smoothly contemporized the stiff 19th-century speech without relinquishing the period setting, the play is so swift and smart, and it builds to such a ferocious climax, that my chest felt like a drum-skin at the curtain call. Creditors is an early realistic work with titanic battle-of-the-sexes overtones in the vein of the better known The Father, but it is to my mind a better and more enduring play because it’s fairer to both sides of the battle. Both the principal Man and the principal Woman are allowed to be strong and wholly plausible here, and though the Man ostensibly triumphs in the end (at the expense of a third character, a mere mortal male, the Woman’s second husband), there’s no triumphalism or whining about unfairness. The horrible action--the deliberate, vindictive and almost clinically efficient destruction of a marriage--is presented as a fantastically unpleasant truth about the cosmos that we are all exhorted to recognize or deny at our peril. I doubt that anyone who wasn’t already prompted to think about misogyny in Strindberg would consider that word any more applicable to him than misandry (or misanthropy) on the sole evidence of this carefully balanced production.

Rickman and his British cast (Tom Burke, Anna Chancellor and Owen Teale) must be congratulated for infusing this work with so much light, life and gripping momentum. No production I’ve seen has made clearer why Strindberg was a born playwright, someone for whom human beings, with their incessant displays of cruelty, bad faith and selfishness, chiefly existed as grist for dramas. This author mined his experience, public and private, for the “strong and cruel struggles” he felt uniquely equipped to depict, and he often provoked those struggles with his behavior--his equally mad and maddening blend of exaggerated self-pity, scalding temper and paranoia. The three characters in Creditors may seem exaggerated at times, even paranoically calculating, but they never seem unreal because they were so plainly real for Strindberg. He saw them as strictly true to nature, which is why their astonishingly extreme arguments all make perfect logical sense. That's part of what's so disturbing about them. How extraordinary that such a crackpot play about a marriage from 122 years ago can still delight and crackle with this much energy, intelligence and grisly fun.


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