THE MAN-BEAST presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Nov. 10. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening weekend Sunday matinee performance.
Know Theatre of Cincinnati continues its 21st Season, FEAR ITSELF, with a new drama based on the 18th Century legend of the Beast of Gévaudan. Previously produced works at Know by the playwright Joseph Zettelmaier include All Childish Things (2015) and Pulp (2016).
Many thanks to director Brant Russell for bringing together what may now be my new favorite on stage couple: Jim Hopkins and Jennifer Joplin. Together the pair are electric to watch as Jean and Virginie, a mismatched pair of social outsiders that find companionship and more in each other’s company. Despite their physical differences, Joplin’s character is every bit the equal to Hopkins’ Jean. Their performance styles are very compatible and their chemistry so natural that I almost forgot it was a monster tale. One small complaint would be that I did lose the dialogue a couple of times when Hopkins’ character bellowed quickly.
This intimate and engaging show works well in the Underground space. Russell makes great use of the play area and elicits great character work from the two actors. Every moment rings authentic and I found myself rooting for the unlikely couple. The choreography by fight director Jonn Baca gives the show a great physicality and is very convincing; no small feat considering how close the audience is to the action.
The set design by Andrew J. Hungerford is perhaps the most ambitious to date downstairs. I loved the weight of it with all the dark wood and stone. It was fun to see Jean constantly bump into items hung for the convenience of the much shorter Viriginie. The lighting design (also by Hungerford) and sound design by Doug Borntrager only enhances the atmosphere of the piece. I was also very pleased with the taxidermy designed by Mara Tunnicliff. Great to see items so essential to the plot executed so well.
Picky picky: When so much work is done to set the mood and period it was disappointing to see (and hear) the caster wheels used on one of the pieces. It was also mentioned to me that from some seats the lighting instruments were visible within the fireplace. It was such a great effect from my seat that I would hope every audience member would have the same experience.
Overall, an engrossing tale, smartly written and directed only enhanced by the wonderful performances of the two leads. A perfect tale for the season without the gore or body count.
My rating: 4.75 out of 5.
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