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Brewing up the story of Margery Kempe

Jason O'Connell and Andrus Nichols star in "The

Jason O'Connell and Andrus Nichols star in "The Saintliness of Margery Kempe" directed by Austin Pendleton. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

Quick, name the first autobiography ever written in the English language.

Probably an unanswerable question, but some think it might be "The Book of Margery Kempe," penned sometime in the 1400s by an Englishwoman with alleged mystical qualities. Kempe was also the inspiration for John Wulp's play "The Saintliness of Margery Kempe," first performed at the Poet's Theatre in Cambridge, Mass, in 1958.

"It's completely unlike any play I've ever read," says Austin Pendleton, who's directing a production for Perry Street Theatricals starring Andrus Nichols (Bedlam's "Saint Joan") at the Duke on 42nd Street through Aug. 26.  "I was very struck by it," he says. "It's funny and it's other things than funny, it's disturbing and playful...the language is marvelous."

The book, which Kempe dictated because she could neither read nor write, traces her efforts to run a traveling brewery, and when that didn't work out, to become a saint. Pendleton notes the contemporary message of the play. It was "the #MeToo movement in 1400s rural England," he says. Rather than rely on men, "she wanted to define her own life."

Check out margerykempe.com for information on tickets, from $55, and schedule. 

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