Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Review: Strindberg’s marital drama comes alive in new Toronto revival (Includes first-hand account)

The opening-night crowd with whom I saw this dark comedy last night — at the fledgling company‘s cramped Toronto digs, in the basement of the Magic Oven restaurant — was as engrossed in it as if they were watching a Mad Men cliffhanger. A big reason why is the contemporary translation by David Greig, whose sharp dialogue makes this 1889 three-hander sound as modern as any current TV serial, but without losing Strindberg’s original wit and wisdom. Another reason is Rae Ellen Bodie’s smart direction, which spares nothing as it carefully crafts the jealous power struggles between these characters without bringing them over the top. And the performances certainly help — especially that of Toronto stage veteran and past Dora-winner Hardee T. Lineham.

Call it Scenes from a Marriage by way of Othello, or vice-versa, but condensed to ninety minutes. Creditors centres on the marriage of artist Adolph (Noah Reid) and novelist Tekla (Liisa Repo-Martell), as well as the former’s new friendship with a mysterious older man, Gustav (Lineham), whom Adolph has met during the couple’s vacation at a seaside hotel. With Tekla away during the lengthy first scene, Gustav has a long, tense chat with Adolph about the latter’s private life — it starts out casually and ends up with Adolph, quite literally, almost throwing a fit.

Young, naïve Adolph thinks he’s happily married to the woman of his dreams — “I feel her absence as if she were a phantom limb,” he says – but the apparently misogynistic Gustav sows powerful seeds of doubt, suggesting that Tekla shows signs of being a leeching, emasculating cheater. “That woman has never loved you,” Gustav bluntly spits out, adding, “The last person a man should trust is his wife.” His approach to Adolph starts off appearing as genuine concern, but soon intensifies almost to the point of bullying.

As Gustav eavesdrops, Adolph confronts the confused Tekla in a scene that painfully shatters both partners’ illusions of their relationship. And a surprise revelation near the play’s end changes everything even further, in terms of the three characters’ interrelationships and motivations.

Carrying this production brilliantly is Lineham, whose Gustav is a sly, Iago-like monster who seems to see right into Adolph’s soul. Visually reminiscent of the older Robert Morse (or maybe a thin, quieter version of Burl Ives’ Big Daddy), Lineham’s Gustav seems to be made of stone as he manipulates Adolph emotionally, taking control of the conversation with little effort as he calmly sits on a guest chair or paces around the hotel parlour. “Life offers a thousand means by which we can hurt each other,” he says — and he seems intent on demonstrating all of them.

But Reid is also effective as Gustav’s foil; youthful, weak, babbly and often unsure of himself, Reid’s Adolph comes off as a more highly educated and cultured Michael Cera. Hobbling about the room on crutches, or trapping himself on a psychiatrist-style couch as Gustav berates him and poisons his mind, Reid plays up Adolph’s physical and emotional weakness believably; he and Lineham’s domineering presence complement each other in a way that makes both performances even better.

Yet the Gustav-Adolph confrontation is so strong and intense that when we finally meet Tekla, Repo-Martell’s performance – while certainly not a poor one – seems to suffer in comparison. Repo-Martell is convincingly playful and affectionate, with a quiet dignity that stands out when she’s being confronted unjustly, but her laughter sometimes sounds forced and her emotional reactions are occasionally muted.

Bodie has limited space to work with at the Coal Mine – which is just completing its inaugural season — but she makes it work by creating a rectangular thrust stage with the audience on the same level as the characters (or, in Adolph’s case, looking down on him as he withers away on the couch). It’s an intimate space that puts you right in the room with them, adding to the intensity and creating a level of claustrophobia that suits the material very well.

Andrea Mittler’s set is both minimal and practical, using sparse furniture and props to create a passable nineteenth-century hotel parlour, but one that seems to get smaller as emotions get thornier. Another notable effect is the opening music (composed by Coal Mine co-founder Ted Dykstra), a gentle piano passage that suggests a quaint, upper-class lifestyle — but underscored by the sound of crashing waves from the seaside, hinting at the chaos threatening to break out.

Jealousy, revenge, philosophy, a battle of the sexes and some cruelly funny lines — this play has it all. This production of Creditors makes this dark, talky script more funny and audience-friendly than you’d imagine it to be, due partly to Greig’s modern-sounding translation and partly to the spirited performances. Coal Mine’s previous productions Bull and The Motherf—ker with the Hat have also received acclaim; if this young company continues to put on such energetic, quality productions, it should be around for a long time.

Creditors runs at the Coal Mine Theatre until May 17.

Written By

You may also like:


Soemwhere the haunted popup they called America sighed in the silence.


The Seine has been clean enough to swim for most of the past 12 days, Paris city hall said Friday.


Filmmaker Dar Dowling chatted about directing her latest film "Hineni" and being a part of the digital age.


Actress Amy Tsang (The CW’s "Kung Fu") chatted about "Stars Wars: The Acolyte," and she remembers the late "General Hospital" actor Johnny Wactor.