No decent playwright ever got anywhere writing about a blissfully happy married couple, but with his 1888 drama Creditors, August Strindberg delved about as far as he could into cruel, bitter, claws-out marital strife. Never has marriage looked bleaker than it does in the U.K.-based Donmar Warehouse’s current production of Creditors at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (running through May 16).
In a resort-like watery getaway, nestled in a hotel room with all the warmth of a hospital (the furnishings have a sort of 19th-century Ikea feel), oversensitive artist Adolph (Tom Burke) is spilling his guts about his domineering wife to Gustav (Owen Teale, wonderfully manipulative), a complete stranger. Gustav maintains that all women are useless (what is a woman, he wonders, but ”a fat boy with overdeveloped breasts”? ”A chronic anemic who hemorrhages regularly 13 times a year”?). He further argues that the wife is an adulteress and that Adolph needs to stop sleeping with her.
Exit Gustav, and enter Tekla, the wife in question (Anna Chancellor, perhaps best known as ”Duckface,” Hugh Grant’s unfortunately nicknamed almost-bride in Four Weddings and a Funeral). She paws and pokes and hectors Adolph — ”If you don’t like your position you can hand in your notice,” she sniffs — while he tries, in vain, to locate his spine. Exit Adolph, enter Gustav. Now, we won’t reveal Gustav’s real identity, but we will say that some woman in his past really put him through the wringer, and apparently hell hath no fury like a Scandinavian scorned. Eventually he unleashes on her a torrent of misogynistic emotion that would make David Mamet blanch. It’s no surprise that Strindberg wrote Creditors while in the midst of a divorce. During his first of three divorces.
Fortunately, the actors — a terrific trio, under the agile direction of Harry Potter baddie Alan Rickman — find heaps of comedy in this dreadfully unhappy scenario. One hopes Strindberg at least got a few laughs out of it as well. A?
(Tickets: BAM.org or 718.636.4100)