Stringberg's play is performed here in an accelerating 90 minutes without interval, although there are three distinct scenes, as the characters—an unwell, insecure young husband, his new mentor and his older, flirtatious novelist wife—share the stage in consecutive one-on-ones that play increasingly like face-offs, or clinical trials. We're observing, with detachment, a whole undercard's worth of struggles for dominance, and inevitable breakdowns; the titular metaphor is Strindberg's sinister take on the truism about love as a matter of giving and receiving, and the dialogue, as characters reach back for past injuries and then stab forward with them, is brutally concerned with love as a series of emotional transactions, and the fear and resentment that well up when the deal is concluded and one person seems to have come out ahead. It's a funny play, too, for its sharply recognizable moments of brutality, and for the way the characters, for all their machinations and sophistication, inevitability surrender to their core needs.
Ben Stones's set, a seaside hotel, is done as a white room with seemingly natural light filtering through high, frosted windows; it's mostly unadorned, but naturalist, coming as close to a blank canvas (or arena) as it can get without being distracting—appropriate, of course, for Strindberg's naturalist treatment of archetypal themes. The adaptation, by David Greig, is frank, and the blocking is frequently horizontal; the cast is uniformly strong, more of a team than distinct performances, as you'd hope for, really, for three people sharing an hour and a half of nonstop dialogue containing years of history. It must have been a hell of an illuminating experience to rehearse.
Performances through May 16.