The charming, old Oak Lawn house that serves as the home of Broken Gears Project Theater lends intimacy to Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s naturalistic psychological tragedy, Creditors. It translates and elevates the domestic, allowing the audience to catch every exquisite nuance elicited by director René Moreno. The acting space is dominated by light grays and whites, evoking a sun dappled, whitewashed European beach resort with soft, fluffy clouds, and wicker furniture (set design and properties by Elias Taylorson and René Moreno, scenic painting by Kaori Imai). Lilting beach sounds (Alex Worthington) in the background complete the seaside tableau. All this outward beauty lends all the more contrast to the painful and complicated interior mess in the intertwined lives of the three characters.
We open to a serious conversation between sickly artist Adolph (Evan Fuller) and his vigorous confidant as quasi-therapist Gustav (Elias Taylorson). The subject of their confab is Adolph’s domineering older wife Tekla (Meridith Morton) and her withering control over him. Gustav proves to be an incisive Svengali, convincing Adolph to be assertive and avoid intimacy to cure himself from the “hypnotizing power of the skirt.”
The minx like Tekla returns from her meeting to resume her own manipulative ways only to find Adolph with a newfound spirit of confrontation derived from the adjacently ensconced and eavesdropping Gustav. Adolph leaves to do a similar spying trick while we discover a new relationship in this sick trinity between Gustav and Tekla
Taylorson portrays Gustav as a Machiavellian wolf in a fine cravat. He has a rich, full, and relaxing timbre in his voice that allows him to deliver his blunt truths that become all the more shocking when he reveals his fangs. Fuller, as the hobbling, consumptive Adolph, is literally a suffering artist. It is a testament to Fuller’s craft is that he is so unpleasant and wrenching to watch, convulsing with occasional respiratory attacks and viscerally portraying this man of infirmed of body and spirit. Morton’s Tekla is a calculating pussycat. She is pouty, sarcastic, brazen, and haughty in a poisonous, yet captivating way. Morton embodies the Nietzschean exhortation of women about the tiger’s claw in the velvet glove. She is drawling and deadly until she meets her match. Jeulet Noyes dresses all three in fabulous period finery.
The play’s language is pleasantly antiquated and formal, with some natural and contemporary updates by Steve Young. Moreno’s perceptive direction is evident in the flawless timing by the actors, their speech variations, and the savoring of the pauses without chewing that lovely scenery. The lack of an intermission maintains the tension and compactness of the action. Broken Gears is breaking ground here, and turning out a mature wine of a play for the fortunate cognoscenti.