Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Photos/Jim Baldassare

1401 was not an easy time to be alive. Even if you're fortunate enough to have a stable job--or, in this case, to be married to someone who owns a brewery--that doesn't mean that you'll be understood. It's therefore a smart choice for Heidi Schreck to revisit the true story of Margery Kempe (Sofia Jean Gomez) in our modern time, when we are readier to listen to her heaving, all-or-nothing attempts to find meaning in her life.

Her Nurse (Tricia Rodley) certainly doesn't understand her--in fact, she's guiltily jealous--and so she takes pleasure in Margery's sudden, post-pregnancy illness. Nor does her husband, John (Darren Goldstein), know what to do with her: her liberated, dominating ways are about 500 years too early for him to deal with, though he loves her all the same. Feverish, and tormented by the devil Asmodeus (the gentle Will Rogers is a great against-type choice), she lashes out at those around her, which only serves to make things worse; until, that is, she finds a kindred soul in Father Thomas (Jeremy Shamos), a young priest with such little standing with the Church that he is able to try the unorthodox method of actually talking to Margery.

No one is prepared for what his innocent teachings awake in Margery, who soon claims to have been visited in bed by a purple-clad Jesus and is now determined to pledge herself to him, wearing white though she is obviously no virgin. (Again, 1401 was a quaint time.) Having recently seen Heidi Schreck in Circle Mirror Transformation, it's neat to see Gomez playing the role of Margery, for their vivacious energies are infectiously similar. Gomez makes the most of the opportunity, too, so fully committed that there are times when one feels she should be committed, given the ways in which she battles her own weaknesses not just with her own squealing voice and big bright eyes, but with her full body, grasping a table and licking it, as if that might help her to fast. With ample assistance from Theresa Squire's costumes (the colors of which help to signal Margery's moods and gradual transformation) and Leigh Silverman's top-notch direction, it's a guilty pleasure to delight in watching a poor person attempt to rediscover themselves as a saint.

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."

As is, the play does a fine job of confounding the audience at every turn, making us question its sincerity as much as Margery and Father Thomas grow to question the world's. If the world is, as Thomas claims, "pregnant with God," then Schreck and company have made good midwives, filling this Creature with surprisingly poignant observations on how miraculous it is simply to live.

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