Three’s a crowd, especially within a marriage. “Creditors” by August Strindberg explores the dynamics of marriage when external factors come into play. Aurora Theatre’s production of the 1889 play, newly adapted by David Greig, presents an intricate and compelling depiction of its lead couple, who find themselves a part of a psychological triangle.
“Creditors” follows Adolph (Joseph Patrick O’Malley), a painter-turned-sculptor, who is staying at a seaside hotel with his wife, Tekla (Rebecca Dines), a novelist. There, he befriends Gustav (Jonathan Rhys Williams), who slowly convinces Adolph to rethink his relationship with Tekla, including the power dynamics that exist within their marriage and the amount of affection between them. Directed by Barbara Damashek, “Creditors” premiered at Aurora Theatre on Jan. 31 and will run through Feb. 24.
Strindberg’s play is typically referred to as a tragicomedy. And while on the whole it fits the genre, it also contains many elements of melodrama: Emotional pain plays out as physical ailments; the stakes are emphasized as being high, and the climax comes to fruition through a plot twist fit for a soap opera. One of the things that Aurora’s production does so well is lean into these melodramatic elements, led by the powerful direction of Damashek.
From the very beginning, in which a bright blue neon light illuminates the outline of the stage set as the outline of a man stands in front, it is clear that this show is going to be driven by drama. Elements of melodrama creep up at first, through Adolph’s seemingly increasing physical pain as he rethinks his wife’s love for him or a line that may seem a bit too dramatic for the conversation occurring.
As the play progresses, however, so do the elements of melodrama, resulting in a fast pace that has been building up since the opening line. Suddenly, the stakes are clear to be as high as earlier alluded to, as audience members find themselves caught up in the midst of an emotional and psychological mind game between the three characters. By the end, as the harrowing conclusion plays out, it has grown from a production with hints of melodrama to a fully fledged one.
In the world of “Creditors,” emotions are often represented by physical feelings; this mostly exists for the character of Adolph. This piece is an ensemble, yet if there were a center, Adolph would be it — his emotions are at the forefront. He is also the only one physically impacted by the stress of the trio’s dynamic. He begins with a limp and becomes increasingly weak as the story progresses.
In this role, O’Malley not only has a strong grasp on both the emotionality and the physicality but also is clearly letting his character be driven by the connection between the two. He utilizes a convincing limp, but it is the emotion in his eyes and facial expressions that are the most alluring. He expertly conveys being caught between his intense love for his wife and the evolving knowledge that she may not love him quite as much.
In one scene, Adolph converses with Tekla, trying to gauge how much of what Gustav has convinced him of is actually true. While he plays up his efforts of still being a loving husband, the pain and confusion he is feeling are strikingly clear in his face. The other two actors are also stunning in their respective roles, but ultimately, it is O’Malley who embodies all of the layers that make up the essence of the plot.
Aurora’s “Creditors” turns the mundanity of marriage into a wild and intense night of revenge, manipulation and deceit. Every moment is working toward the striking and sudden ending, keeping the audience’s attention throughout the entirety. More than anything, “Creditors” achieves the difficult feat of effectively utilizing melodrama in a way that will leave the audience members on board with it rather than rolling their eyes at it.