Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego


Also see Bill's review of Sammy

Kathryn Meisle, Omar Metwally and
T. Ryder Smith

In these times of financial hardship for many, it is tempting to respond to the friendly solicitor who offers an extra credit card at a favorable "introductory" rate of interest. Of course, the fine print says that, if one is even a little late with a payment, the interest rate immediately zooms to usury levels (and may still, even if payments are on time). But it is easy to be taken in by flattery and the prospect of someone who cares when things are tough.

Do we have creditors in our relationships with others as well as in our financial lives? August Strindberg thought that we did, and he reckoned that the same type of trouble that lurks in the shadows of our financial lives waits to jump out at us in our personal lives, too. Mr. Strindberg wrote Creditors to illustrate this dilemma, and Doug Wright's new English-language version of the play has just opened in a strong production at La Jolla Playhouse.

Creditors is part of a Strindberg trilogy that served to usher in the naturalism movement in theatre (the other two were The Father and his most famous work, Miss Julie). Creditors was written at the same time as Miss Julie and was to have made its premiere in Copenhagen on a double bill with its companion, but the Danish censors thought that the naturalistic sexuality in Miss Julie was too shocking and banned it.

Interestingly, Creditors is in its own way more shocking, as it deals with the exercise of power in relationships and how feelings of debt to another are destructive, to the point that what twentieth century philosopher Kenneth Burke called "mortification" is necessary. Mortification occurs when an individual feels stuck in a cycle of guilt and looks for ways of speaking that will allow the other person to forgive that individual's sins, either real or imagined. Mortification characterizes quite a bit of the text of Creditors.

In the day room of a facility where guests come to soak in the natural mineral waters for purposes of healing, Adolf, a young but sickly artist, confers with his new friend, Gustav. Gustav, also a guest at the spa, has been listening to Adolf for days about Adolf's life concerns but most especially about his relationship with Tekla, his wife. Tekla had divorced her previous husband to marry Adolf, and for a while she had served as Adolf's artistic muse as well as his lover. But, Adolf's health steadily declined, and the quality of his art declined as well. Tekla had become more distant and, Adolf feared, more flirtatious with other men. Gustav blames Adolf's concerns on Tekla and tells Adolf that he needs to confront her when she returns from a trip that evening. Adolf musters up enough courage to do so, but Tekla laughs off his concerns and attempts to seduce him instead. As Adolf rejects her advances, Tekla retires to her room. Gustav tells Adolf that he will demonstrate how to reign in Tekla, and the resulting confrontation brings tragic results.

The story roughly parallels Mr. Strindberg's own life, and it reflects his anger at his wife Siri, with whom he was having marital problems. The tone of the play is often misogynist and, in the original version, Tekla was portrayed as an evil seductive temptress. Mr. Wright's version was adapted from a literal translation by Anders Cato. Mr. Wright, who also directed, retains some of the misogyny but also softens it to some degree. He brings greater perspective to the character of Tekla and provides her with a measure of dignity that Mr. Strindberg did not. While he retains period settings (by Robert Brill) and costumes (by Susan Hilferty), the speaking style of his text is more contemporary. And he condenses the action into three scenes, played without intermission.

Mr. Wright's production brings out the symbolic elements of the text. The day room is like a garden hothouse, but nothing grows there. It is filled with a variety of wheelchairs, but the other places to sit do not look comfortable. The healing waters are evident just outside the door (Japhy Weideman did the lighting design) but the characters ignore them, opting to have at each other instead.

Under Mr. Wright's guidance, the company—Kathryn Meisle as Tekla, Omar Metwally as Adolf, and T. Ryder Smith as Gustav—play their roles in uniformly excellent fashion, both individually and as an ensemble.

Creditors provides an intense but satisfying look at how we accumulate and pay off debt in close human relationships. Even though the characters are from another time, their cycles of anger and guilt still ring true. Performances run through October 25.

La Jolla Playhouse presents the world premiere of Creditors, based on the play by August Strindberg, September 29 —October 25 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre. Tickets ($30 - $65) are available by calling (858) 550-1010.

Creditors, adapted and directed by Doug Wright from a translation by Anders Cato. Scenic design by Robert Brill, costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Jill BC DuBoff, wig design by Tom Watson, music composed by David Van Tieghem, stage management by Jennifer Leigh Wheeler, casting by Telsey + Company, dramaturgy by Shirley Fishman. Dana I. Harrel is the associate producer, and Peter J. Davis is the production manager.

With Kathryn Meisle, Omar Metwally, and T. Ryder Smith.

or online at the La Jolla Playhouse website.

Photo: Craig Schwartz

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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