Friday, November 6, 2009



By Heidi Schreck. Directed by Leigh Silverman. At The Ohio Theater. (CLOSED)

Acclaimed (and Obie award-winning) actress Heidi Schreck makes her New York debut as a playwright with this P73/New George's co-production. Creature, a not-really-factual take on 15th century wannabe mystic Margery Kempe, earns generally high marks from the reviewers for its blend of contemporary and classical idioms and Leigh Silverman's deftly comedic direction. Grumbling arises about the failure of the play to quite cohere at the end. Patrick Lee and David Barbour bring up the rear. Lee generally thinks the show is alright, but finds the characters hard to connect to, while Barbour (clearly a fan of the show's source material) pans the play as a messily-written disaster.

OffOffOnline A+
(William Coyle) Creature does everything right, managing to be historically fascinating, loaded with depth and entertaining, all at once. I recommend it to anyone who relishes compelling new theater.

That Sounds Cool A
(Aaron Riccio) Schreck has also done a terrific job in spinning a great deal of research on this era into comic gold. Silverman would never have been able to add so much physical comedy if it were not for the richness of the script itself, in which a drunk, worn down John can have a serious conversation with Father Thomas regarding the safety of his wife (they're burning women for heresy) one moment, and then ask whether it's true that priests have "extra large merchandise" the next. Without throwing in Margery's mood swings--particularly one where she attempts to cry, as a saint would, only to laugh at her success, working herself into a fit--we would not be able to make as much of her attempts to quote Juliana of Norwich (Marylouise Burke, commandingly dotty): "For me, Love has always been terrible and implacable, devouring and burning."

Blog Critics A
(Jon Sobel) The play belongs proudly to Margery, and we left the theater feeling that we personally knew this complex and fascinating woman. Ms. Gomez gives a suitably dangerous and sometimes screamingly funny performance. Put simply, she plays the hell out of her, and with a terrifying Hell (along with Purgatory and Heaven) ever-present in the anxieties of the age, this feels like exactly the Margery we ought to have. One can read a proto-feminist strand into this lusty and freethinking depiction of the character, but any sense of anachronism is made palatable – fun, in fact – by the script's unabashed honesty. The comic dialogue and the flow from scene to scene feel effortless.

NYTimes B+
(Rachel Saltz) Absorbing... Creature, directed simply and imaginatively by Leigh Silverman, seems at first too broad and too modern (a lot of “what the hells” and Converse high-tops). But after a while the play finds its tone, at once lighthearted and serious. Ms. Schreck uses unadorned contemporary language, and the set, by Rachel Hauck, is handsomely minimal, with deft touches (a cradle hanging near the ceiling, a window frame floating in Juliana’s room). It’s as if Ms. Schreck and Ms. Silverman were clearing away distractions, making the play like a monk’s cell: a proper space to contemplate the mysteries of faith.

The New Yorker B+
(Unsigned) Heidi Schreck’s script, directed by Leigh Silverman, though somewhat incoherent, makes religious fanaticism look like a lot of fun. Some wonderful performances, too—in particular, those of Gomez, Goldstein, and Shamos—add to the high energy.

Variety B+
(Marilyn Stasio) The superstitious fears and horrors Heidi Schreck conjures up in her offbeat historical play about the 15th century English mystic Margery Kempe are largely psychological -- and not unfamiliar to any modern woman stressed out by the demands of a new baby and a childish husband. Without denying the significance of religious faith in the intellectual darkness of the Middle Ages, scribe coyly suggests that having mystical visions was a great way for a clever woman to escape her onerous domestic duties and become a celebrity.

(Frank Scheck)In a sense, playwright Heidi Schreck is somewhat like her subject. This promising author -- who's also an actress, now appearing in off-Broadway's "Circle Mirror Transformation" -- has ambitiously taken on historical and religious themes when most of her contemporaries are content to write about relationships. If she's not entirely successful, she certainly deserves points for trying ... Director Leigh Silverman isn't able to make it all coherent, but Creature certainly indicates that this talented actress is also a playwright to watch.

Village Voice B-
(James Hannaham) Schreck's juxtaposition of the modern middle class and the Middle Ages could be funnier, but in a shaky effort to acknowledge the real Kempe's humanity, the production lurches between lampooning her shallow side and sentimentally lauding her spirituality. The Winslet-like Gomez gets no blame; she whizzes through the character's inconsistencies like an Olympic luge champ. And loose-limbed Marylouise Burke's ninth-inning appearance as fellow visionary Julian of Norwich (renamed "Juliana" here to emphasize her female-ness) provides a burst of humor and balance that proves almost revelatory.

Time Out New York B-
(Helen Shaw) Schreck’s script has narrative simplicity, contemporary zing and lyrical flights of startling loveliness. Unfortunately, her hallucinatory, shimmering language desperately needs medieval murk for contrast and mood, and director Leigh Silverman—ignoring the stage’s many candles in favor of big, music-hall light cues—refuses to give it to her. The production, despite championship acting, treads too lightly, and sheds its mysteries along the way. In this sort of vision, it’s sometimes best not to see the light.

TheaterMania C-
(Patrick Lee) The characters speak in mostly contemporary idioms and move on stage with modern physicality, often costumed in sneakers in contrast to the plain garments that suggest the period. While these deliberately anachronistic choices seem intended to emphasize both the continued relevance of the theme and to draw current-day associations with our heroine's behavior, we aren't given a reason to connect emotionally with Margery. Indeed, while the themes in Creature intrigue, too often, the characters do not.

Lighting and Sound America F+
(David Barbour) When I first heard about Creature, my first thought was, I wonder why the playwright, Heidi Schreck, wants to write about a 15th-century mystic. Having seen Creature, I'm still wondering....Kempe lived a singular life of controversy and achievement, and she was actively caught up in the important spiritual dialogues of her times. She could have inspired all sorts of plays; the treatment she gets here is thin, sketch-comedy stuff, informed by a casually derisive attitude toward the Middle Ages.

OOO A+ 14; TSC A 13; BC A 13; NYT B+ 11; TNY B+ 11; V B+ 11; NYP B 10; VV B- 9; TONY B- 9; TM C- 6; LSA F+ 3 TOTAL = 110/11=10 B

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