A Sly Suggestion Is All It May Take to Kill a Marriage

The New York Times

April 22, 2010
THEATER REVIEW | ‘CREDITORS’

By BEN BRANTLEY

In the world of August Strindberg, where everyone is always armed and dangerous, it takes only 90 minutes to destroy a marriage. That’s the time required to perform the thrilling new interpretation of “Creditors,” which opened Tuesday night at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. When this impeccably acted three-character drama has put the last of those minutes to cruel and careful use, you’re likely to feel you’ve had the breath knocked out of you. Despite yourself, you’ll probably be smiling too.

Pity and terror may have been what Aristotle demanded a tragedy elicit from its audience. But Strindberg, who held to the courage of his perversity, tweaked that formula like no other dramatist before him in his naturalistic plays from the late 1880s. Laughter and terror are what’s incited by his chronicles of to-the-death struggles between men and women, a hard laughter that both cuts and heightens the pain of your response.

It is unusual these days for a production to invoke that paradoxical response as thoroughly and skillfully as this one, an import from the invaluable Donmar Warehouse in London, directed with surgical exactitude by Alan Rickman. (An example of how Strindberg’s tragicomedy can slip into camp was provided earlier this season in the Broadway production of “After Miss Julie,” which starred Sienna Miller.) Presented in a new translation by David Greig that brings out the feral poetry in Strindberg’s prose, this portrait of a fatal sexual triangle is both coldly objective and scathingly passionate.

Both sides of that equation are fully evident in the opening scene. The setting is the lounge of a Swedish seaside hotel, and as rendered by Ben Stones it’s a disquietingly sterile place, as white as a hospital operating room and saturated in unnaturally even natural light (designed by Howard Harrison).

Just how appropriate this environment is for the action that follows becomes clear with the entrance of Gustav (Owen Teale), a composed man of tidy mien and measured speech, and the younger Adolph (Tom Burke), who has a limp and an open, anguished expression. Having met only recently, they are in the middle of a conversation about the state of Adolph’s marriage, and the older man questions and counsels the younger with professorial patience and persistence.

Adolph, an artist, says that he has given himself so completely to his older wife, a novelist, that he has no identity of his own left. Or that’s the conclusion that Gustav leads his new acquaintance to. The images used in describing the marital connection are biological, and Gustav’s diagnoses are literally, and sometimes grotesquely, medical.

It soon develops that under the paternal guise of a sort of psychological surgeon, here to cut away an unhealthy love as if were a tumor, Gustav is systematically poisoning Adolph by suggestion. At first, the dialogue has a breezy, almost Wildean wit. “That’s why one ought not to marry anyone one hasn’t been already married to — at least once,” says Gustav, though without a trace of an epigrammatist’s smirk.

As the conversation continues and deepens, the men’s interaction becomes increasingly physical, and there are moments when Gustav fastens his body onto Adolph’s, ostensibly to offer strength but looking like a succubus. “Life offers a thousand means by which we can hurt each other,” says Gustav, with a musing detachment that belies our awareness that he is a master of such means.

The missing member of the triangle, the wife, makes a late entrance into this laboratory of human feelings, though we’ve seen her naked image in a provocative, harshly ambivalent sculpture by Adolph. Tekla (Anna Chancellor) wears her strength more flamboyantly than Gustav does, and her hold over her boyish husband is still firm enough to bend him back to her own will, at least partly. Adolph leaves the room angrily, allowing Gustav — who has been waiting, hidden — to demonstrate anew his particular talent for hypnosis.

On one level “Creditors” isn’t so far from the classic French farce of infidelity. And it features some genuinely funny moments in that vein. “I feel you’re trying to steal my soul,” Tekla says breathlessly in the middle of a horizontal clinch with Gustav. “There is no soul,” Gustav says. Tekla, good free-thinker that she is, answers in a rush, “I know, I know, I know.”

But if these people are on occasion funny, it’s because they’re so deadly — and I mean deadly — serious. Only Gustav has a sense of irony about who he is and what he’s doing, and it’s not a pleasurable perspective. Though Strindberg is usually regarded as a painter of vampire women who suck the life out of their male prey, “Creditors” offers a view of the human predator that has, one might say, gender parity.

And what a lonely view it is. Relationships, even (no, especially) those of love and friendship, incur feelings of indebtedness. And debt breeds a resentment that festers and a need to break free of obligations. The characters speak with ostensible self-detachment of modern theories of psychology, which reduce people to genetically programmed animals, bereft of free will. What’s so killing about “Creditors” is how completely they embody those theories.

Mr. Rickman, best known as an actor, has steered his ensemble into making us believe that for each of these unhappy people character is fate, that they couldn’t act other than they do. Even more than Strindberg’s later “Dance of Death,” “Creditors” is a template for a kind of take-no-prisoners drama that would flourish in the 20th century, practiced by writers as different as Eugene O’Neill,Edward Albee and Harold Pinter. But it’s rawer and harsher than anything that would follow.

The cast here couldn’t be better in playing out the shifting power games that give the play its structure, keeping us in their grip even as the script slides into the devices and denouements of old-fashioned melodrama. Germaine Greer, in a program note, writes that the characters in “Creditors” are mythic archetypes. But what’s so compelling about these performances is how specifically defined each one is.

If Adolph is a sort of tabula rasa, to be written on by more experienced hands, the emotionally translucent Mr. Burke guarantees that this blank page has an achingly individual fleshly texture and shape. Ms. Chancellor’s Tekla is a magnificent amalgam of vanity, imperiousness and just enough lingering self-doubt to be taken advantage of. Mr. Teale calmly and devastatingly embodies a man who has drained himself of all feelings but one: the thirst for vengeance, to be top dog once again. And in Strindberg’s primal jungle of life, that’s really the only feeling that matters.

Creditors

By August Strindberg, in a new version by David Greig; directed by Alan Rickman; sets by Ben Stones; costumes by Fotini Dimou; lighting by Howard Harrison; music and sound by Adam Cork. A Donmar Warehouse production, presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. At the Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene; (718) 636-4100. Through May 16. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. WITH: TomBurke (Adolph), Owen Teale (Gustav) and Anna Chancellor (Tekla).

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[AUDIO – OTR] “The Kettler Method” — An old time radio drama far too similar to “Shutter Island”

http://www.archive.org/download/SUSPENSE/42-09-16_The_Kettler_Method.MP3

A chilling, exciting story about inmates taking over an asylum for the insane and “operating” on a visitor to cure her headache.

Suspense – The Kettler Method

Roger De Koven, John Gibson, Martha Falkner, Guy Repp, Gloria Stuart, Peter Barry (writer), Berry Kroeger (announcer), Bernard Herrmann (composer, conductor), William Spier (producer), John Dietz (director), Winfield Honie, Ralph Smiley.

Columbia Broadcasting System

Suspense was a radio drama series broadcast on CBS from 1942 through 1962.

One of the premier drama programs of the Golden Age of Radio, was subtitled “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills,” and focused on suspense thriller-type scripts, usually featuring leading Hollywood actors of the era. Approximately 945 episodes were broadcast during its long run, and more than 900 are extant.

Suspense went through several major phases, characterized by different hosts, sponsors and director/producers. Formula plot devices were followed for all but a handful of episodes: the protagonist was usually a normal person suddenly dropped into a threatening or bizarre situation; solutions were “withheld until the last possible second”; and evildoers were punished in the end.

[AUDIO – OTR] “UNIVERSE” — An old time radio drama reminiscent of Plato’s Cave

http://www.archive.org/download/OTRR_Dimension_X_Singles/Dimension_X_1951-08-02__42_Universe.mp3

Humans occupy the lower decks of a space ark; mutants control the upper decks. But is there life beyond? Based on a story by Robert Heinlein, this episode of Dimension X originally aired on August 2, 1951.

Featuring adventures in time and space told in future tense, Dimension X aired over NBC from April 8, 1950, through September 29, 1951. The series adapted stories by the modern masters of science fiction, including Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, and many others.

[AUDIO – OTR] Why the meme of religion was invented by humanity

Imagine if you will a tribal band of humans wandering the middle eastern desert, or a similar band of humans wandering the plains of western europe–on ‘first contact’ with a rival tribe,  a dilemma very similar to the one experienced in this tale of space contact would occur.  The solution historically was to disseminate–generally through force and threat of death–the myths and superstitions of the stronger/victorious tribal band throughout the populace of the defeated one.  In this manner the two previously distinct groups were able to TRUST one another and continue in contact.

Throughout history the progression of this ‘first contact’ lead to a larger and larger geography being held sway under the same myths, superstitions, and gods.  Much as the meme of the English language has allowed for modern global diplomacy, and the meme of capitalism in turn, for modern global commerce/trade.

Religion was an instrument of unity in primitive societies, so one tribe was able to understand and TRUST another’s frames of reference.  It was also used by elites to organize societies for otherwise unjustifiable objectives–such as war, construction, population growth, not dying from the consumption of rotting meat, or the extinction of valuable resources such as bovines.

-rudhro


Two spaceships meet for the first time – one of the ships is from Earth, the other from another planet. The first contact goes well, except that neither ship can leave first because they are afraid the other will follow them back to conquer their home planets. Story by Murray Leinster.

__________

This episode of Dimension X originally aired on September 8, 1951.

FIRST CONTACT

__________

Featuring adventures in time and space told in future tense, Dimension X aired over NBC from April 8, 1950, through September 29, 1951. The series adapted stories by the modern masters of science fiction, including Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, and many others.

__________

First contact is a term describing the first meeting of two cultures previously unaware of one another. One notable example of first contact is that between the Spanish and the Arawak (and ultimately all of the Americas) in 1492.

Such contact is sometimes described later by one group or the other as a “discovery”, particularly by the more developed society. In addition it is generally the more advanced society that is able to travel to a new geographic region to discover and make contact with the generally more isolated, less developed society, leading to this frame of reference. However, some object to the application of such a word to human beings, which is why “first contact” is generally preferred. The use of the term “discovery” tends to occur more in reference to geography than cultures; for an example of a common discovery debate, see Discoverer of the Americas.

The historical record indicates that when one culture is significantly more technologically advanced than the other, this side will be favored by the disruptive nature of conflict, often with dire consequences for the other society. The introduction of disease can also play a role and has worked to the advantages of both lesser technologically advanced and more technologically advanced societies, e.g. negatively for indigenous American civilizations and positively for Africans and some others.

Fiction about the topic is commonplace in science fiction and fantasy. In science fiction, the first contact trope explores the possibilities of first contact between two intelligent species, generally humans and extraterrestrials.

–Wikipedia

MEMES VERSUS TRUTH | DANIEL DENNETT EXPLAINS AFTER I DO

[AUDIO – OTR] ‘Avatar’ –versus “Courtesy”–a radio drama from 1951

Very little in Hollywood is novel.

http://www.archive.org/download/OTRR_Dimension_X_Singles/Dimension_X_1951-07-26__41_Courtesy.mp3

An expedition to Landro encounters a deadly plague, and the serum they need is in the hands of the planet’s inhabitants. Based on a story by Clifford Simak, this episode of Dimension X originally aired on July 26, 1951.

Featuring adventures in time and space told in future tense, Dimension X aired over NBC from April 8, 1950, through September 29, 1951. The series adapted stories by the modern masters of science fiction, including Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, and many others.

Cervantes and Shakespeare

“Shakespeare and Cervantes apparently died on exactly the same date (23 April 1616), but in fact Cervantes predeceased Shakespeare by ten days in real time (for dating these events, Spain used the Gregorian calendar, but Britain used the Julian calendar). This coincidence, however, has allowed UNESCO to make 23 April the World Book and Copyright Day.”

Luminato lands John Malkovich in quirky play

March 07, 2010

Martin Knelman

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Aleksandra Zamojska and John Malkovich, as serial killer Jack Unterweger, perform in a dress rehearsal for “The Infernal Comedy” in Vienna June 30, 2009.

 

STEPHAN TRIERENBERG/AP FILE PHOTO

 

Being John Malkovich has often been an adventure in quirkiness.

But when Malkovich comes to Toronto in June to open the fourth annual Luminato festival, he’ll be stretching the limits of the Q word.

Playing a sensationally flamboyant modern-day Jack the Ripper in The Infernal Comedy – which had its world premiere in Austria last year – Malkovich will be the only actor on stage.

But this is not exactly a one-man show. It’s a weird and shocking chamber opera featuring a 40-piece baroque orchestra and two sopranos delivering famous death arias by Mozart, Haydn and others on behalf of the 11 prostitutes Jack Unterweger strangled with their own bra straps two decades ago.

“It helps that he is such a flamboyant character, and that’s why I enjoy playing him,” Malkovich said in a phone interview recently.

He confirmed a report from my sources that in mid-June he will be giving that performance at Luminato, which has snared the play’s North American premiere.

Luminato CEO Janice Price refused to comment, but the arts festival will be making major program announcements on Tuesday. Count on this to be one of them.

Malkovich spoke during the lunch break on the set of Red – the big-budget espionage movie currently shooting in Toronto. It’s a comic-book saga in which he co-stars with Bruce Willis, who plays a former CIA agent threatened by a would-be assassin. Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman play members of the agent’s old team who try to protect him. And it’s being produced by Summit, which also produced The Hurt Locker.

 Despite his Hollywood star status, Malkovich – who began his career as a founding member of Chicago’s famously daring Steppenwolf theatre company – has never lost his appetite for the special thrill of live performance.

“Live theatre should emphasize the live part,” he says. “It’s by definition ephemeral. It’s different every night, and that’s what makes it magical. I don’t want to give exactly the same performance 5,000 times. For me, it would be pointless.”

Unterweger’s posthumous comeback in this production – on which Malkovich collaborates with writer Michael Sturminger and musical director Martin Haselbock – stirred controversy in Vienna.

Convicted of murder, Unterweger had been pardoned and released early after distinguished literati, including Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass, campaigned on his behalf.

That made him a poster boy for rehabilitation, and he became a celebrity. Meanwhile, he was killing prostitutes in Vienna, Prague and Los Angeles. After being sent back to jail, he hanged himself in 1994.

Sixteen years later, he has achieved a weird kind of pop-culture immortality, clinging to the limelight for which he had an addiction as strong as his taste for kinky sex and violence.

mknelman@thestar.ca