Review: "The Creeps" Delivers on Its Title–and More

The Creeps

Written and performed by Catherine Waller

Presented by The Creeps NYC with Kendra Keenan and Gustavo Lutterbach; Carson Gleberman; Claire Wilkes; and Sharon Fallon Productions, Inc. at Playhouse 46 at St. Lukes

308 W 46th St, Manhattan, NYC

September 1-November 5, 2023

Catherine Waller. Courtesy of Kampfire PR
The Creeps begins to establish an atmosphere even before the show starts, bathing the performance space and the audience seated on its four sides in a shade of yellow light that washes the color out of everything and everyone, a fitting prelude to the uncanniness to come. An equally funny, unsettling, and, perhaps surprisingly, empathetic solo show from Catherine Waller, The Creeps has won awards at the Hollywood Fringe, Amsterdam Fringe, and United Solo Festival, and it now arrives in Hell's Kitchen with its roster of lonely, damaged, and, in one instance, subtly menacing characters ready to meet the spectators who descend below Saint Luke's Church to Playhouse 46.

That meeting is bidirectional, since Waller employs a good deal of audience interaction, heightening the unpredictability that already characterizes The Creeps. She makes a spectacular first entrance–with more impressive transitions to follow, in tandem with terrific lighting work–and her first character, an unnerving emcee-slash-manager of the place where we find ourselves, demonstrates Waller's masterful use of physicality–posture, movement, an unflinching smile–another element that remains impressive throughout the show. Next we make the acquaintance of Bill, who, against the backdrop of effectively minimalist ambient sound design, not only gradually parcels out a sense of his current existence and what led him to it but also reinforces the gulf between the unpleasant "down here" where the audience has riskily wandered and "up there," where he says that we belong, the literal upper story or stories of the building in whose depths he toils as well as the outside world more broadly. Other characters surface in Bill's wake, marked, like Bill, by a recurrence of loss, physical or otherwise, and each represents a complete transformation by Waller. They offer to us, in their peculiar individuality, jokes, appeals, dark implications, and flashes of horror.

As The Creeps progresses, outlines of a larger, sinister story and world emerge from the shadows, while still, like a good creepy experience does, leaving a lot to the audience's imagination. Within these lines, one might discern not only considerations of loss and trauma but also critiques of various kinds of exploitation, including by the medical industry. Although near the show's conclusion Bills tells us that we are nice people, retroactively seeing an earlier request for help from a childlike character through Bill's concluding enjoinments to the audience implicates us in just the sort of behavior that allows the "down here" to go on as it does, even as we most likely feel perfectly reasonable in denying that request. Getting into too much detail would spoil the frisson of uncertainty and sense of surprise that The Creeps maintains from its first moments until its closing fade to darkness. To discuss those details is, anyway, no substitute for the galvanic company of the Creeps themselves.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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