When "Creeps" premiered here in 1982, it sent out shock waves. It wasn't the shock of seeing the theatricalization of cerebral palsy, but the shock of witnessing a kind of total surrender of their true selves up to David E. Freeman's sad, courageous men thwarted by a cruel trick of nature.
The shock has worn off, and with Bruce Weitz's revival of "Creeps" at Second Stage, the play seems cast in a new, less flattering light.
Deep down in its bones, Freeman's work is only as vital as the performance it's given. And even Weitz's generally intelligent and committed cast cannot distract us from the realization that, most of the time, Freeman sets up stick figures in a debate that has no end.
There's Jim (Eric Weitz), the model CP guy, who does all sorts of good work around the workshop. If it wasn't for the workshop, where would we all be? he queries his workshop mates.
We'd be better off than here, Sam (Gerald A. Sharp) shoots back, because we'd at least be ourselves, rather than some decoration for charity. Pete (Jed Mills) is sort of comfortable here, so he doesn't want to make waves, but he still feels this urge to get out. Tom (Bernie White) goes through with his urge, which is to chuck the security of the workshop, rent a place and paint abstracts. Pete almost joins him, but if Tom fell down in the apartment, who'd pick him up?
The drama's cross is Jim's to bear, since he too has the creative urge. Does he follow his muse, or does he kiss up to Mr. Carson (William Hayes), who sternly runs the place?
A big problem with all of this is that it's easy to guess Jim's response before he does anything. No one, in fact, changes here (Tom's departure was just a matter of time), and we feel too much of the playwright's fastidious hand in making sure that every type and every side of every argument is represented.
Nor is there the sense of prison in this staging that we got before, the kind Ken Kesey put into "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The grip of urgency is lost, and with it, the feeling of moral duty that imbues the argument put forth here that if one creates, that's what one must do--in the face of all opposition.
Finally, we fall back on the actors to carry us through, and nearly all of them do, especially Weitz, Mills and Ivan E. Roth in an electric, dizzying quadruple-role performance.
Performances at 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., ends Nov. 23; (213) 466-1767.