When going to watch a Strindberg play we usually know what to expect: a nicely packaged box of naturalism with all the trimmings. Strindberg's plays speak for themselves. They are gripping and continue to be relevant to the present day. It may be difficult to completely butcher them, but it is even more difficult to make them your own.
Coal Mine Theatre's production of Strindberg's Creditors (adapted by David Greig and directed by Rae Ellen Bodie) doesn't step outside that box of detailed stage directions and perfectly fleshed out characters. Rather, it builds up the pressure in that box until it explodes. That's what makes this production so successful. The cast and crew make Strindberg work for them.
Young Adolph (Noah Reid) is married to an older, “independent” woman named Tekla (Liisa Repo-Martell). Tekla, who is on her second marriage, is somewhat of a free spirit. She loves playing games and having multiple lovers. She elicits control over Adolph and he complies.
Adolph is so enamored by his wife that her progressive ways do not bother him. That is, until Gustav (Hardee T. Lineham) gets a hold of him and slowly sucks the life out of him – word by word.
Reid and Lineham beautifully juxtapose one another, creating moments of suspense and comedy simultaneously, with Lineham as the wise and conniving older man, and Reid as the naïve, lovestruck young husband.
And Repo-Martell's entrance more than satisfies our expectations. She demands the attention of all spectators from the moment she arrives to the moment the house goes to black. She creates a perfectly twisted combination charm and repulsion.
While the design elements stay true to Strindberg's guidelines and the time period, the Coal Mine Theatre proves to be the ideal venue to stage this claustrophobic tragicomedy – an intimate black box theatre, where everyone's a little too close for comfort.
As Gustav slowly fills Adolph's head with doubt about his relationship and his life, we can feel the pressure starting to build. And there is nowhere to go. Adolph is stuck in his own thoughts and we, as audience members, are stuck in the small hotel room setting amongst all the chaos, waiting for someone to crack.
Creditors runs at the Coal Mine Theatre until May 17.
photo credit: Michael Cooper