Revenge is rarely as gripping, vicious and, yes, fun, as it is on stage at the BAM Harvey in August Strindberg’s “Creditors” — a thoroughly modern take on the battle of the sexes.
Though written in 1888 by, let’s face it, the sometimes-insane Swedish Modernist, “Creditors” retains its freshness and insight into male-female relations that must have been shocking more than a century ago.
There’s no fat in this brisk, 90-minute war, directed by the actor, Alan Rickman. The play starts in the middle of a deep conversation between a young artist Adolph (Tom Burke) and an older man, Gustav (Owen Teale), with Adolph in mid-breakdown. Already weakened by the notion that his sexy, modern, free-thinking wife, Tekla, is cheating on him, Gustav opens up ever more painful wounds, namely that his wife is, indeed, cheating, but, worse, she doesn’t even appreciate him.
Those first 30 minutes comprise an amazing piece of theater as Gustav — whom we only slowly realize is the husband that Tekla tossed aside in favor of the callow Adolph — plays the role of sympathetic friend even as he is picking apart his rival, pouring into him the notion that he has stolen another man’s wife and that someday, the bill for that debt will come due.
Having concluded his autopsy on Adolph’s soul, Gustav withdraws, and in enters Tekla (Anna Chancellor) like a dervish — fresh from flirting with the entire all-boy crew of the ferry that delivered her back to her husband. The reunited lovers quarrel, flirt and quarrel again. Like many married men, he wants his adoration for his wife to be enough to satisfy her need to be adored. But it is not enough, and he storms off, saying he will be on the 8 pm boat out of town.
Gustav re-enters, and the war enters its final battle. Initially, Tekla is happy to see her ex, whom she credits with having made her what she is today — a woman in full.
Gustav wants payment on that debt — and Tekla agrees. But once he has his sweet revenge over his wife, Gustav doesn’t even bother to take it; he knows Adolph is listening on the other side of the door, so horrified that his wife would betray him this time that he has become catatonic.
“Creditors” is often derided as a minor work of Strindberg, whose supposed masterpiece is the oft-staged “Miss Julie.” But seeing three brilliant actors destroying each other on stage — and getting laughs from a taut script, too — revives one’s faith in the theater. There are no “minor” works, just unimaginative theaters that just want to stage the same old Shakespeare all the time.
But unlike those tired productions, “Creditors” is a must-see play — a play of ideas and conflict that gets at the very core of what it means to be a flawed human being in a modern world.
“Creditors” at BAM Harvey [651 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636- 4100], through May 16.