Strindburg’s “Creditors” at Theater for The New City

Creditors 2023” was an intriguing play, and so nuanced that you may even have interpreted it slightly differently than the person seated next to you. Translated, adapted, and directed by Robert Greer, the Artistic Director of the August Strindberg Rep Theater, who did an excellent job of updating August Strindberg’s work for modern audiences through tweaks rather than an overhaul. Performances ran at the Theater for the New City, April 27 – May 14th. Set in Montauk, the play’s 1888 vernacular was modern enough to appease 2023 audiences without being overdone or distracting.

Performed by the professional trio Natalie Menna (Tekla), Brad Fryman (her husband Adolf), and Mike Roche (her ex, Gustav), reuniting on stage after performing Strindberg Rep’s “Hedda 1981,” it’s clear that these three are adept and at ease with one another on stage, accustomed to playing off of each other strengths, and supporting each other. The result is like an acclaimed orchestra that plays so well you’re transported beyond the theater, which is likely due in part to Greer’s direction as well. Menna, as always, is superb at lacing scenes with complexity and nuance to render them more interesting, Fryman brings all of his heart and passion to the role, and Roche is so believable as the smooth manipulator that you can’t imagine him otherwise.

What Is Love?

This particular play poses eternally pertinent questions that only the individual viewer can answer: what do married people owe each other, what are the terms of marriage, are you really ever over someone you once loved deeply, and if you truly loved someone, would you or could you be so easily manipulated out of that love? Does jealousy enhance or destroy love? Do you ever see someone clearly when you’re in love, and isn’t a quest for revenge more similar to love than disinterest?

This play laid bare the discrepancies between how the genders are perceived, even now. The wife, Tekla, revels in the attention of a younger man on a ferry, which is used against her to suggest that when checking off the madonna or the prostitute box to define her, she will be in the latter, with no in-between boxes. But imagine if Mad Men‘s married Don Draper character reveled in the attention of a young woman who flirted with him in the agency’s elevator. It would be viewed as normal for his character to enjoy being admired, and viewers would not assume that he planned to cheat on his wife as a result. Men are rewarded for basking in admiration and taking what they want, but somehow it is unseemly for a woman to do so — at least in “Creditors,” and undoubtedly in Strindberg’s 1888 world. Another modern dilemma is the mysterious “power” women are granted over men’s actions when it suits them; for example, when the married Brad Pitt fell in love with his co-star, Angelina Jolie, she was to blame. Although Pitt was the married person with a vow of monogamy, it was Jolie who was widely reviled and considered a home-wrecker — as though Pitt had no say in the matter and had to go where he was beckoned because she had cast a spell over him. This play reveals how women are often expected to remain in their designated roles: caretaker, humble and dutiful wife, personal muse and siren, and infallible role model — and when they stray from that and have complex feelings, or feel confused, or make an error in judgement, or have a moment of dubious independence, well… bad things happen.

Seeing the play through a different lens, perhaps that of the man seated in front of me, the message might be: love deeply but don’t lose your sense of self, or you’ll be too easily manipulated. Or it could be viewed as a play about the need to believe in love, so no one can rend you apart from your beloved when they set out to. In this regard, it’s a persuasive play about the need for strong faith.

It’s also a play about revenge! The title alludes to the fact that sometimes karma will exact its toll and appear at your doorstep, and revenge is indeed best served cold if the heart remains heated. For all who harbor ill will, it could provide evil hope that payments of the heart can be squared up if you’re creative enough. It could even be a cautionary tale: stay in your lane and your bubble. Don’t engage in prideful flirting, or speak to your ex, for you belong to someone when you’re married. Or it could mean: we’re all here on credit, buying time, buying love, and the interest may be calibrated by how we treat each other.

One thing is absolutely certain: this play will provide a feast of food for thought. So if you have the opportunity to see the next Strindberg Rep play at the Theater for the New City, do yourself a favor and see it early and often.

Theater for the New City
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(between 9th and 10th Streets)
New York, NY 10003