One woman, five characters, unimaginable circumstances, the darkest of humor, and improvisational audience interactions form the basis of Catherine Waller’s The Creeps, now back in NYC playing a nine-week limited engagement Off-Broadway at Playhouse 46, following a 2022 performance at The Flea and award-winning runs at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Hollywood Fringe Festival, Amsterdam Fringe, and United Solo Festival (where it was honored as Best Interactive Show and Best Physical Theatre).
If you’re hoping for edge-of-your-seat anticipation and unexpected frights that will have you holding your breath and jumping back in fear, you won’t find them here. The fringy solo show, according to its creator, is intended for audiences to “find we have similar wants, desires, hopes, regrets” in order to advance the goal of human connectivity. It didn’t for me; it just seemed absurd, bizarre, and highly unrelatable, with no particular conclusion or resolution, just arcane hints. And dead baby knock-knock jokes.
Barefoot and dressed in a black unitard, moving around on a bare floor and directly addressing the audience seated on all four sides, Waller, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, embodies the range of macabre figures with distinctive voices and accents, and physical manifestations of their corporeal impairments – sometimes crawling, sometimes hunched over, other times with eyes closed or tongue darting. Individually they take us through twelve creepingly slow and often redundant scenes, set underground, that conjure a living hell, in a confusing disjointed format lacking narrative clarity and reliant upon audience participation (which was minimal on the evening I attended) to reveal the cryptic nonlinear plot points.
The experimental production features eerie lighting by Scott Monnin, with a roving spotlight, unearthly colors, and sudden blackouts between scenes (during which Waller makes astonishingly quick changes) and is enhanced by an equally disturbing soundscape by Hidenori Nakajo, with haunting music, whistles, babies crying, and disconcerting ambient noises. But in general, despite Waller’s physical and vocal transformations and a spooky artistic design, the show didn’t give me any of the full-blown creeps suggested in the title or the shared life experiences she sought to evoke.
Running Time: Approximately 55 minutes, without intermission.