Marylouise Burke, Sofia Jean Gomez, Darren Goldstein, Tricia Rodley, Will Rogers, Jeremy Shamos
Actress Heidi Schreck, currently appearing in Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwrights Horizons, makes her New York playwriting debut with her new play Creature, a study of religious fervor in fifteenth century England.
A quirky play written with a flair for whimsy not altogether unlike Sarah Ruhl’s, Schreck’s play explores the difficulties of belief. Based freely on the life of accused heretic Margery Kempe, Schreck takes on the ambitious task of addressing what she feels are the mores of our own time through the perspective of a woman’s story from more than four hundred years ago. Kempe, who had been possessed for some time following the birth of her child, claimed to have seen a vision of Christ in purple robes, a vision that influenced the rest of her life, causing her to turn to religion.
In time, the formerly hard-to-handle housewife begins studying with Father Thomas, a priest whose relatively liberal views on Christianity (and possession of an English-language Bible) make him cause for suspect. Constantly at the verge of temptation, she manages to refrain well enough, but her stubborn unwillingness to conceal her faith (she even wears white robes despite being unchaste).
For all its ambition, Creature is most certainly not a perfect play. It occasional takes on more than it can chew, attempting to provide neat answers that ultimately remain unresolved. But Schreck’s writing is impassioned and fervent, inspired by the same sort of vigor that inspires religious texts and containing a number of lovely descriptive passages.
Beautiful candlelit design by Rachel Hauck is mostly quite striking (though the set’s backlit back wall is egregiously underused). Lighting design by Matt Frey evokes a period mood while maintaining a sense of contemporary theatricality. Costumes by Theresa Squire, though occasionally lovely (Margery’s costumes are particularly elaborate and character-driven), tend to err uneasily and indecisively in the direction of modern-period fusion despite some well-thought-out elements.
Headed by a fine cast that includes the hilariously ethereal Marylouise Burke in a supporting role alongside the always fine Jeremy Shamos as Father Thomas, the likable, quirky priest and Sofia Jean Gomes as the beautiful Margery, transforming gleefully from possessed sinner to near-saint, the play, as directed by Leigh Silverman, is occasionally lost somewhere between the time period in which it’s set and now, but the questions it raises thematically are full of enough bite to keep an audience interested throughout and debating once it’s left the theatre.