Gift from Down Under: “The Creeps”

The best gifts come unexpectedly.

For about 15 years now, I’ve been haunting theatres in LA and New York looking for a certain kind of work.  Images that bubble up from the dark deep, strands of suggestion clinging to them like seaweed, and form before us into story.  Or tease together into almost-story.

Twice now, I’ve found it.  Once in a tiny North Hollywood storefront, at Zombie Joe’s Underground, where I’ve played happily ever since.  (Never, alas in New York.)  And once during the Hollywood Fringe, on a tiny stage tucked into the side of a building.

Catherine Waller

Catherine Waller

Sitting down to a show we’d planned on, a friend whispered urgently, “Have you seen The Creeps?  You have to!”  After the curtain call, we rushed several breathless blocks, and found the door beside a trash dumpster.  A good omen.

Inside the darkening black box, a woman crouches tensely, arms swept back, face pushing forward, leering.  “These are the rules,” she hisses.  Her grin and tone seem almost welcoming, yet her warning is harsh.  Is she in control here or not? Will she guide us, or ambush us?

One by one, other characters emerge from the darkness.  Some are aware of us at once; others, absorbed in pain or in colloquy with shadows, discover us accidentally.  All share what they can of their stories, sometimes struggling to make words, to name things and experiences, but always welcoming the dialog our hissing hostess urged us to offer.  Unsettlingly often, they laugh.

We begin to know these isolated, often abused souls, to feel them. We suspect they’re somehow connected in this dank underworld.  We begin to share their fear of a figure who seems to preside over their prison with malevolence, or at best a cruel indifference.  We even glimpse him passing … or have we imagined it?

When the hour ends, we feel torn from a fascinating world too soon, before we can understand, before we can help.  Only as the lights come up do we return to the stage on which one woman stands.

We return, in light, to the stage where she has knelt, crawled, sat, hung, twisted and crept, has babbled, growled, talked, sung and screamed, bringing her demons, her dark imaginings, to life.  And now they will live in us too, summoning others of our own making.

Waller’s work is a tour de force, wrested from within, unimpeded by fear or reason.  Her physical and vocal athleticism amply serve her art.  So do her collaborators, an uncredited lighting artist and composer Joe Ceglio, whose delicate minimal melodies thread us through the dark maze while maintaining the mystery.

The Creeps is the fruit of much work and study, notably in creating  bouffons (comic grotesques), whom French master Philippe Gaulier has restored to modern theatre.  Waller herself has arisen like her characters from “down under” — a New Zealander who has brought her emerging art to Hollywood.

In The Creeps, years of discipline — and fearless “soul spelunking” in the dark, disturbing caves of the unconscious — have brought some powerful gifts to light.  Watch Catherine Waller.  The gifts will only get richer.

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The Creeps, created and performed by Catherine Waller.
At Schkapf, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd.

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