Theater

“Creditors” at Shakespeare & Co is “utterly inspired”

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“Creditors” at Shakespeare & Co  is “utterly inspired”

If you’re going to revive a play that’s over 100 years old, you need to choose wisely: the work needs to be strong enough to hold the attention of a modern-day audience and there needs to be a reason you selected it – does it impart some timeless wisdom, perhaps? Shakespeare & Company’s choice of August Strindberg’s Creditors is not only wise, it’s utterly inspired.

Adolph (Ryan Winkles), a well-known artist, is vacationing at the seaside with his wife, Tekla (Kristin Wold), who is a well-known writer in her own right. When Tekla leaves for a week, Adolph is forlorn until he meets a new friend, Gustav (Jonathan Epstein) – however, Gustav crushes him by telling him his marriage is not in good shape, that Adolph needs to be more in charge and that Tekla may be cheating on him. Tekla is soon to return and Gustav has a plan for when she does – but what drives Gustav to interfere in their marriage so?

Strindberg’s work, in an adaptation by David Greig, is crisp, thrilling and sharp; there’s not a wasted word. John McDermott’s set is somewhat spare and utterly perfect; Amy Altadonna’s sound design adds just enough seaside ambiance to let it creep into the background but never so much as to overwhelm us. The costume design, by Deborah Brothers, is so effortless it may fool you, but pay careful attention to Wold’s costume and her lines about the colors that best suit her; there’s a clue there, and Brothers has provided just the right pop of color at just the right time to give us that hint.

Director Nicole Ricciardi has three stunningly powerful actors, and she works with them with the care and cunning of a master chess player; each move choreographed just so, who’s in charge never forgotten, lines delivered at the perfect time to provide the proper punch, silences allowed just enough time to let the production breathe.

Winkles has a tough job here, and he sells it; his Adolph is the weak one against two forces of nature, yet we never quite write him off or feel abject pity for him. Wold’s Tekla is a woman to be reckoned with; she enters and the fireworks truly begin. Her performance sparkles; she is fire and ice, a different woman with both men and very much her own woman and one to be admired. Epstein’s performance is jaw-dropping. His voice, from a seductive purr to a cruel growl, gives one chills; his stage presence is unparalleled. What a character to get to play, for an actor to sink one’s teeth into – and Epstein is, without question, the ultimate choice for Gustav. How lucky we are to see him perform this role.

Without question, this is one of the most intelligent shows I’ve seen this summer; the cruelty, dark humor, love and pain contained in its spare runtime has to be seen to be believed. What a brilliant way to blur the line between the past and present.

“Creditors”; Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, MA; through August 12; $65-$18.75; Run time: 95 minutes; (413) 637-3353;  http://www.shakespeare.org/

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