Entertainment » Theatre


by Adam Brinklow
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Feb 7, 2019
Rebecca Dines and Joseph Patrick O'Malley in "Creditors" at the Aurora Theatre through February 24.
Rebecca Dines and Joseph Patrick O'Malley in "Creditors" at the Aurora Theatre through February 24.  

What we have with "Creditors" at Berkeley's Aurora Theater is an absolutely textbook melodrama.

In this circa-1888 show by August Strindberg, the "Creditors" of the title are emotional rather than monetary, asking what exactly we owe to the people in our lives.

Although our instinct might be to probe our consciences for a fair answer to that question, it turns out that the equitable standard is probably not the one we're going to end up subjected to.

Confusingly set in a sort of no man's land space in a continental hotel — the characters all treat it like a private room but some of the action demands that it be a common area — "Creditors" finds affable but anxious artist Adolph (Joseph Patrick O'Malley) awaiting the return of his novelist wife.

Aurora regulars will recognize O'Malley's unblinking gaze and mime-like expressions from his turn as the unwittingly cloned man in last year's "A Number."

There he seemed, depending on the scene, either hapless or alien, which was perfect. This time around he's less well suited to his role; though he comes off as highly vulnerable (Adolph, we soon learn, is only slightly less prone to manipulation than a weathervane), his naivety is less endearing than it is a bit annoying.

Adolph has fallen in with Gustav, a quick-witted stranger who is extraordinarily interested in his art, his life, and most of all his marriage.

In a contemporary setting Gustav would set off every possible alarm bell as a likely social media stalker. And actually as the play unfolds this behavior turns out to be not all that far from the truth.

Jonathan Rhys Williams plays Gustav, who was previously the nitwit gallery owner in "Disgraced" at San Jose Stage, a show that might have an unsettling number of things in common with this one come to think of it.

Whereas O'Malley sticks out, Williams appears breathtakingly comfortable here.

The part is basically one pitchfork away from just actually being Mephistopheles. But the actor makes Gustav appear receptive and emotionally diligent in such a way that the character is believable enough in spite of itself.

Through initially casual conversation Gustav excites Adolph's jealousy and insecurity about his wife and her mysterious but seemingly omnipresent ex-husband. This he does with generous applications of vampiric misogyny.

Strindberg was a venomous woman hater himself, and although this is not a quality that has ever improved anyone's capacity as an artist it might accidentally make the play seem much more credible.

Which brings us to the third and best side of the triangle: Rebecca Dines as the much-talked-about Tekla.

By the time her first entrance actually comes we've heard so much about her — she either walks on water or feasts the hearts of children, depending on which page of the script you open up to — it seems impossible she'll live up to expectations.

But Dines blows that problem right out of the water within seconds with a powerful and emphatically motivated presence. It's a little amazing the stage doesn't tip a bit to one side in response to her magnetism.

It turns out Tekla is not really the woman we've been led to anticipate (although she is overbearing, but strangely enough in a winning way), and of course it soon turns out that not everything is at it seems about the others either.

The big twist in "Creditors" is probably easy to spot, the fine details of its climax don't really make sense, and this Barbara Damashek-directed show includes occasional experimental lighting that comes off as overbearing.

Still, there's so much red meat here for actor's actors to chew over that it's very hard to resist, and its rewards feel almost perverse.

"Creditors" runs through February 24 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St. in Berkeley. For tickets and information, call 510-843-4822 or visit https://auroratheatre.org


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