Stage

Strindberg's Debt Collectors at Stark Naked Theatre: Emotionally Explosive

It's a wonder the influential Swedish playwright (also painter, novelist, photographer and essayist) August Strindberg wrote any autobiography at all. After all, his life is richly detailed in every play - all his psychoses, neurotic desires, internal demons, prejudices and dreams. He changed theater forever with such sexy psychodramas as The Father (1887) and Miss Julie (1888), suffered a breakdown accompanied by an occult religious conversion after his marriage failed and his new works weren't successful, got married again twice, and created a new expressionist theater when his free-form The Dream Play (1902) and Ghost Sonata (1908) rocked Europe. Surprisingly, his forceful work is not produced much outside university theater, so Stark Naked Theatre, a new company in its world-premiere production, is to be applauded for bringing us one of Strindberg's great early successes, The Creditors (1889), or as they're calling it, Debt Collectors. It contains all of Strindberg's major themes: power vs. weakness, marriage vs. freedom, male vs. female.

During a Mexican vacation, while successful-writer wife Thea (Kim Tobin) is away, artist husband Andrew (Philip Lehl), crippled and suffering from asthma, is befriended by mysterious stranger Justin (David Rainey). With gnawing insinuations about Thea's faithfulness, Justin, like Iago, worms his way into Andrew's consciousness. He convinces Andrew to eavesdrop when Justin meets Thea, so he can prove to Andrew that his wife is no good. The kicker: Justin is Thea's former husband, out to destroy her for writing about him, and if he must take down milquetoast Andrew to do it, so be it. That's the way of Strindberg's world. Naked Theatre does wonders with the psychotic Swede, from the adult sandbox set conjured by design wizard Jodi Bobrovsky to the imaginative sound design of gulls and far-off surf from Chip Schneider. The emotionally explosive trio discovers all Strindberg's sadistic twists and artfully bats them back and forth. Co-directed by husband/wife Lehl and Tobin, the game is feverish and shiveringly good. Prepare to have your obsessions stripped Stark Naked.

Through May 29. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-866-6514.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover