Heidi Schreck’s 2009 dark comedy, “Creature,” imagines what a young woman might go through in 1401 England by seeking sainthood after visions of demons and Jesus. Her quest slyly echoes the lives of many contemporary religious personalities whose sincerity is regularly questioned.
Tiny Engine Theatre has established itself as a bold purveyor of quirky material but its staging of “Creature,” despite some arresting scenes and a committed cast, has technical and directorial problems that keep it from fully engaging the audience.
Based on real-life Margery Kempe’s story, Schreck’s script charts responses to Margery’s pursuit, including those from her husband John, a successful businessman, who tolerates her until she forbids more sex, and her nursemaid, who bristles under her imperious demands. Margery seeks advice from Father Thomas, who tries to dissuade her because of the church’s penchant for burning visionaries at the stake, while quietly dealing with his budding attraction to her. Margery is distracted by the attentions of Jacob, an admirer, but finds solace in her visit to the practical, friendly mystic, Juliana.
Schreck writes in contemporary idioms and uses adult language to give the 15th century tale modern context, often with satiric effect. But the script also wrestles with serious questions about faith, intolerance and the purpose of life.
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Director Laurel Ullman pitches the first third of the 100-minute one-act so intently as caricature that it’s hard to have sympathetic responses in the more sober remainder. It doesn’t help that each actor’s style is so different, giving the show an unbalanced tone.
Liz Webb’s Margery is shrill and one-dimensional at first, but brings out more dimension as she faces the hardships her quest poses. Ryan Ladue’s likable John doesn’t go much beyond a humorous randy-ness but Kirsten Ehlert’s nursemaid finds some depth when questioning her beliefs. Lazarus Simmons’ Jacob is a sincere suitor, Christopher Bynum’s Asmodeus a creepy demon, and Jane Holding’s Juliana a Southern-accented accepter of fate.
It’s left to David Hudson to provide the production’s glue, his scenes as Father Thomas filled with nuances of doubt, yearning and rebellion as he fights the strictures of the era.
The un-credited set is a rough grab bag of walls and doorways, while Rachel McKay’s period costumes seem stymied by budget and time for fittings, adding further roadblocks to a satisfactory experience.
What: Creature, presented by Tiny Engine Theatre Co.
When: 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday and Sept. 9-10, and 3 p.m. Sunday and Sept. 11
Where: North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre, 7713-51 Lead Mine Road, Raleigh
Info: 919-866-0228 or nract.org