New York | 2h 0m | Already closed

The Saintliness of Margery Kempe

From 19 critic and 111 member reviews
Members say: Disappointing, Great acting, Slow, Quirky, Funny

About the show

Austin Pendleton directs a new revival of this comic drama from the 50s, which follows the true-life misadventures of the famed English woman of the 14th Century.  More…

Margery Kempe thinks she is a remarkable woman. The rest of the world doesn't quite see it that way. Kempe begins her career by throwing her lot in with the Devil and buying a brewery. When this doesn’t work out, she decides to become a saint instead, although she has none of the qualifications for the job. Based on 'The Book of Margery Kempe,' the first autobiography written in English.

2h 0m | Already closed | The Duke on 42nd Street (Midtown W)

Stage Buddy

“With wit, sharp wordplay, irreverence and numerous characters Mr. Wulp uses language advantageously; characters speak poetically, imagery abounds and stakes are high...Although the script could use some pruning, director Austin Pendleton keeps the action moving...Multitude of medieval characters, ranging from the commoner to the bishop, are gamely portrayed by a plucky group of actors...The cast standout is the gifted Jason O’Connell.” Full Review


“Pendleton has wisely recruited Nichols to play the insufferable protagonist...Her performance as Margery is downright mesmeric. Wulp's script, though admirably literate, is overlong and overwritten; but the scenes in Act Two when Margery travels to Jerusalem are worth the price of admission...This comedy may be overlong, but it's dollars to doughnuts that Wulp's script and Pendleton's production afford a far more invigorating experience than any of those academic papers at the Kempe symposiu... Full Review

The New York Times

"The great Frances Sternhagen played Margery in the original Off Broadway production, in 1959, opposite Gene Hackman...The delightful news about Austin Pendleton’s uneven revival, is that the standard for those roles hasn’t slipped a millimeter...Nichols and O’Connell are delicious to watch...The play is most fun when it moves at high speed, and a languor overcomes the slack first act...Not all of the casting is as spot-on as the leads." Full Review


“Sometimes the play meanders and becomes as messy as a Collier Brothers’ Fifth Avenue home. There’s an all-too-convenient deus ex machina, too. At least Wulp stokes our interest in a genuine historical character we’ve probably missed along the way...Nichols does well by it. One does wish that a major star had tackled the part...Pendleton’s direction impresses. All his supporting actors give unmannered, real-person performances with one exception: O’Connell." Full Review

New York Arts

"Would be an even more entertaining production were it somewhat shorter...The play is talky, funny and energetic although it comes down to a picaresque venture that doesn’t impart meaning deeper than a look at a woman who rails against having her life defined by men. What’s new?...Although entertaining much of the time, the play lacks substance. Despite the good performances, it comes off as a series of vignettes with a lot of nudge-nudge/wink-wink." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

“A two note play, with the one note delusional and schizophrenic lead challenging a more consciously fabricated Joan of Arc on one side of the net against a devilishly desperate soul on the other...Somewhat odd morality play...Bounces back and forth, from farce and fun to tiring and long...Too much explanation and not much variety in its conflict leads to a long tennis match of godliness, one that loses its funny premise early on, and the game just falls flat after that.” Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

“An attempt to highlight Kempe’s break from the expected position of women in society in her time as a parallel to wider aspirations for women today. But what we see on stage doesn’t mesh with such a leap...But what we see is of interest, especially given the flamboyant portrait of Kempe as vigorously enacted by Nichols...Pendleton as director struggles to keep all of the broad components making sense and effectively integrated. But dominating everything is the force of Nichols’s performance." Full Review

Off Off Online

“As the play progresses, the story goes awry...Luckily the cast are marvelous as they play multiple roles adeptly and distinctly and keep things moving. It’s them that we come to appreciate as the script takes its turn downward...Pendleton saves this sinking stone of a story with a light touch and wonderful staging...There are many enjoyable moments in the play, but Margery, ultimately, is rendered a caricature, defeating the fun and strong feminist message of the beginning.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"The thematic relevance of a forgotten play doesn't automatically translate into dramatic effectiveness…Much of interest but also something of a lump…Working under Pendleton's not particularly inventive direction…Nichols makes a dynamic and forceful Margery, embodying the comical and serious sides of her kooky determination…The arch manner in which Margery's experiences are presented, and the generally tepid quality of the humor, would try the patience of a saint." Full Review

New York Theater

"There are two problem with the Voltairean touches in 'The Saintliness of Margery Kempe.' First, they undermine the promise of entering the world (and the mind) of a medieval mystic; satire keeps us at a distance — or, more precisely, keeps us in the modern world. Second, Wulp is no Voltaire. For that matter, Austin Pendleton is no Mel Brooks. There is pointed dialogue, clever ironies. There is talent on stageLAndrus Nichols makes a fine Margery...But the entertainment goes just so far." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Performance-wise, it’s all over the place...Nearly half of Wulp’s comedy is repetitive and, in this iteration, unfunny. After a long stretch of dullness, the play finds a spark of energy in its second act...There’s relevance here—something about our seemingly endless appetite for attention, or about the performative nature of holiness itself. But the play needs more beauty, more speed, more strangeness, more noise." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"One can understand the attraction...Ultimately, however, Wulp's play is disappointing. The play aims for big laughs, but not all of the ludicrousness lands...Still, Pendleton has drawn fine performances from his nine-person ensemble...The production benefits from a spare design, allowing the focus to remain on the strong performances...Despite its flaws, 'Margery Kempe' is a reminder that a woman does not have to be a saint nor a sinner to change the world." Full Review

Woman Around Town

“Much of the writing is period poetic, much is amusing, yet the production rarely lifts off. The company is lackluster and unfocused. Physical direction lacks imagination and structure. What should, I think, snap, doesn’t...O’Connell is too casual/contemporary by half and a hammy member of the crowd...Doyle brings the stage to life with every nuanced appearance. A subtle and sympathetic performance...Nichols offers just the right obtuse, bright-eyed, pigheaded portrayal.” Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"It is hard to care about a character when she is so self-absorbed...The main character wants to be spectacular. The problem is, she doesn’t care at whose expense...Wulp’s text is at times humorous, but it lacks any kind of fiber. Poetic at times, the audience struggles to find meaning in this.. Pendleton has tried his best to make this 60-year-old play entertaining...As Margery, Nichols’s performance struggles against the text to make her human." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Neither a Monty Python-esque spoof of a darker age nor an amusing character study of an obstreperous individual. It is merely a mildly facetious comedy about a self-centered woman whose personal dramas endear her to no one other than a long-suffering spouse. Overlong at two acts and nearly two hours, the spotty play benefits from the sort of good, solid acting that typically characterizes so many of Pendleton’s productions." Full Review


"Something much duller than it has any right to be...With no rhyme or reason to Margery's victories, defeats, and internalized lessons, these ebbs and flows feel as arbitrary as her whims. Director Austin Pendleton has set out to dust off this 60-year-old play. Dust, however, isn't so much the problem as is 60-year-old clutter that this production dances around in lieu of doing a thorough purge...Our title character feels similarly stranded in a narrative that renders her less than the sum of... Full Review


"The cast list in the program reads more like a medieval phone-directory--even if there were no phones in the Middle Ages--than it does a dramatis personae. And then there's what happens to the characters during the course of the play which is as hard to say as it is to remember all of their names, let alone pronounce them." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

“Would fare much better if it had remained undiscovered, left lying dead...Historically inaccurate, filled with tedious twists and turns that are insignificant...Difficult to decide if it is a comedy, drama, farce, spoof or a play of historical fiction...Non-coherent, with no apparent continuity, timeline, or purpose...Few comic moments; but, they are far and few between the laborious and dull script...Cast is overly competent and diligently attempts to transcend the material with minor succe... Full Review

New York Stage Review

"In one of my first jotted notes, I wrote, 'Is this a comedy?' I never laughed, but at the performance I attended there were a few titters. So here’s the benefit of the doubt: Okay, 'The Saintliness of Margery Kempe' is a comedy, but a bad one...On how to shake out this dust-ridden screed, director Pendleton is at a complete loss...The pseudo-poetic lines the nine actors are handed—all but Nichols doubling, tripling, quintupling—prove insurmountable." Full Review

Enchanting, Clever, Hilarious

See it if You know someone who is full of themselves (dont tell them why but take that person with you and see if they identify!)

Don't see it if Its a long two act play better for an afternoon. Some characters play up to three rolls. If references to God and heaven offend you.

Clever, Entertaining, Great acting, Hilarious, Quirky

See it if You want to see the brilliance of Andrus Nicholas playing a rather holier than thou woman of the middle ages. She's deliciously aggravating.

Don't see it if You don't like period plays or farce. It can be a little slow at times.

Also Loved the horse. Jason O'Connell is also excellent. The other characte... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great staging, Great writing, Quirky, Refreshing

See it if The Actors are wonderful and it's quite a compelling story about what drives us all. Very imaginative direction and there's a lot of humor.

Don't see it if You prefer straight ahead stories with a classic structures. Actors play many roles and switch mid-scene. I'm a fan of that. Not all are

Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Refreshing

See it if Want to see great acting of the lead!

Don't see it if You don’t want to see Simple staging

Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if You like Candide, A Doll's Life or A Doll's House Pt.2.; obscure gems which are relevant today ; wonderful language and great performances.

Don't see it if You don't like satire which sends up morality, egomaniacal megalomaniacs, religion and false puritanism; entering a landscape of the 14th c.

Funny, Great acting, Intelligent, Witty, Historical

See it if you need an antidote to fluffy entertainment &The Dumbing Down of America. Funny, witty, thoughtful, insightful, with masterful acting

Don't see it if The hilarious self-centered saga of a 14thc. female mystic, feminist, & maybe saint has no resonance for you & you'd rather see Sponge Bob

Unexpectedly hilarious medieval comedy

See it if Expertly acted comedy (!) of religious mystic woman in 15th century England. Andrus Nichols on a comic romp as the obsessive Margery.

Don't see it if You have no interest in the Middle Ages. Director Austin Pendleton takes this story of a religious fanatic and turns it on its head. A riot!

Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Quirky, Slow

See it if you want a challenging comedy that takes place during the Middle Ages. It is about a woman who tries to gain as much power as possible.

Don't see it if you won't like a slow moving play with sophisticated comedy and language

Clever, Historical, Hilarious, Farce, 14th century

See it if you'd like a play 1st produced in 1959 in North Haven Maine, a funny exposition of women's lib in the 14th century with some slapstick.

Don't see it if You don't like history, comedy, good acting or anything funny related to women's rights.

Clever, Funny, Great acting, Entertaining, Intelligent

See it if you like shows with intelligent humor about religion and society that is as timely today as it was in yesteryear.

Don't see it if you don't like jokes about social commentary or are a devout Christian who is easily offended.

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if If you like clever, historically very interesting, funny, non traditional, quirky plays

Don't see it if If you're easily stumped by dialogue, multiple roles, on stage changes & cant easily keep track of what's going unless a very simple plot

Also Talky? Yes - but clever and interesting talk - not a broadway extravag... Read more Read less

Relevant, Intelligent, Well-acted, Dated, Well-written

See it if you like "classic theater," with a feminist perspective. Poetic language, actors proclaiming lines, playing multiple roles.

Don't see it if Unfortunately, the female protagonist is also a religious charlatan whose antics have a unpleasant impact on people's lives.

Clever, Entertaining, Funny

See it if you are interested in learning about one woman's endless search for happiness, her trials and tribulations....

Don't see it if you do not want to be entertained by a cast of characters who play many roles, all seamlessly.

Entertaining, Funny, Quirky

See it if A revival of a 60 years old play about morality in medieval time where a woman refuses to be defined by men or society in search of freedom.

Don't see it if do not like somewhat funny plays.

Ambitious, Fine repertory work, Slow

See it if To see fine group of actors pulling together a wonderful collaborated experience.

Don't see it if The story line is the problem. Just not enough of a plot to make it interesting.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Funny, Quirky

See it if you want an interesting take on a strange life. Good ensemble cast-and quite funny. I really enjoyed it.

Don't see it if you want a big stage production; and a likeable lead character. But, you would be missing a fun time with a super cast!

Dated, Edgy, Fluffy, Confusing, Entertaining

See it if You like Farce but done as in Joan of Arc without the prison and burning at the stake. Campy quick costume changes. U support Noble effort

Don't see it if You get disappointed because something's missing. Doesn't quite hit the mark. You don't have imagination

Great acting, Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Quirky

See it if you want a night of escape with a great troupe of actors bringing about hilarity with a medieval story.

Don't see it if if you are impatient - the first act dragged a little at times, but the production was redeemed in the second act.

Absorbing, Delightful, Clever, Quirky, Slow

See it if It’s a medieval spoof. Although slow in some parts, the overall plot is good. The jokes are funny. The Lead actress is also quite good.

Don't see it if You don’t like spoofs on drama. Or on religion

Clever, Absorbing, Relevant, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if You are interested in shows with some parallels to today's political climate and are also interested in the middle ages.

Don't see it if You only like musicals or are interested in pure entertainment and don't want to be challenged.

Clever, Entertaining, Quirky, Great acting, Totally unique!!

See it if You like comedies about midieval times that are quirky & require you to let your imagination just go with it. Great acting. Very funny!!

Don't see it if You need structure and consistency like a Shakespeare play. Mocks religion. Raunchy at times and out there. Not for the straight-laced.

Also The actors are fantastic. They deliver the material with direction by ... Read more Read less

Clever, Entertaining, Wonderful actors, Fantastic direction

See it if u have an interest in mystics! u should, they have a message for " now"...want 2 c a fantastic acting ensemble, especially jason o'connell

Don't see it if u want 2 c tried & true.. director austin & his cast r truly unique

Great acting, Funny

See it if you want to see a vaguely historical play based in the late Middle Ages. Also if you want to see a play about a woman trying to find herself

Don't see it if you want lots of sets. Also if you aren't in the mood for a "slower" play.

Also The horse is fantastic.

Entertaining, Great acting, Relevant, Clever, Thought-provoking

See it if if you're a fan of August Pendleton and enjoy plays about the woman's movement.

Don't see it if if you do not like period pieces.

Also I liked the play, but thought it was a bit too long, I enjoyed August ... Read more Read less

Disappointing, Slow, Quirky, Little funny

See it if This comedy has some funny parts. It's about a woman who wants more out of life during the time when women didn't have choices.

Don't see it if If you just like musicals.