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Charged Strindberg

The Stronger and The Creditors Directed by Kevin Fitzpatrick At Quincy House through March 24

By Michael Hasselmo

A BATTLE WILL RAGE in the Quincy House JCR this weekend. The warriors will only brandish a toy pistol and a letter opener, but the combat will be fierce enough to keep the most listless audience enthralled. On this unlikely battlefield, a small, talented cast is presenting Strindberg's The Creditors. Not one blow is struck in this fine production, but it leaves the impression of a great carnage.

Credit for the production's dramatic success belongs to Kevin Fitzpatrick, who serves as director and one third of the cast. As the manipulative Gustav, Fitzpatrick is the pivotal character in a complex triangle of love and hate. With tactful finesse, he dissects the crippled husband Adolf (Robert Ulin), laying bare a host of festering marital doubts. Ulin's nervous vulnerability seems excessive at first, and Fitzpatrick tends to be overcommanding, but as the scene progresses, the actors reveal unexpected levels of character. The surgeon reveals his own weaknesses, and the patient his strength, evoking sympathy from the audience and setting the proper mood for the intricate interplay of personalities that follows.

The dialogue becomes as abstract and apaque as a Berginan film, but through it all the characters prevail. Fitzpatrick instills a morbidly farcical nature into Gustav which culminates in his mimicry of an epileptic seizure to horrify Adolf. Ulin carefully uses his entire body to express the helpless frustration of a man crippled physically and spiritually.

When wife Tekla (Jody Barrett), replaces Gustav as Adolf's antagonist the mode of combat shifts. The actors battle through a veneer of lover's games, but they bring out the levels of manipulation and resentment behind the tenderness.

QUINCY'S BARREN modernity needs few alterations to take on the incarnation of a hotel. The bare carpet and vinyl furniture are not innately dramatic, but Fitzpatrick uses the room to its fullest. With three simple table lamps he creates moments of horror and tension all the more stirring because they do not rely on stage-lighting techniques. He exploits all the dramatic possibilities of the room's split levels and often brings the actors into and behind the audience. This intimacy serves Strindberg's work well. Rarely do more than two people appear at once in the play, and the audience needs to be close enough to catch the actors' subtle expressions and turns of speech.

Fitzpatrick has chosen The Stronger, a short Strindberg play, as a prologue to introduce the undercurrent of manipulation that runs through The Creditors. It is the weaker of the two plays at Quincy. This bizarre dialogue in which one interlocutor is silent holds great potential for a confident actress, but Barrett rushes through the scene with few pauses, leaving no time for Kristiina Harrison to react, and leaving the audience no time to understand. (This weekend, Barrett will play the silent role and Sarah Sewall will go on as the speaker.)

One reason the cast may have been in such a rush last Saturday is that the house was nearly empty. This is a situation that deserves correcting: the Quincy House production leaves the long of real human conflict in the air, and that is the ideal achievement of any drama.

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