The artists and administrators at Know Theatre continually conjure tricks and treats, from gorgeous scenery, powerful and surprising performances, to interesting offerings after the mainstage shows. In Joseph Zettelmaier’s “The Man-Beast” they provide a production of power, love, and betrayal in 18th century France which steeps slowly but richly and builds to a surprise conclusion.
The show begins when a hermit, Jean (Jim Hopkins), bangs on the door of an outcast woman, Virginie (Jennifer Joplin) a practitioner of herbal arts and taxidermy, who “knows a thing about a thing.” He’s wounded, but huge and agitated so she defends herself with a gun. He begs her to mend his arm, bitten by a mysterious bloodthirsty creature which has been menacing the area. He’s been tracking this creature to earn a large reward from the king. Virginie mends him, and eventually they agree she will help him secure the reward, sealing this deal in a blood oath.
Directed by Brant Russell, the two performers fill the stage. Hopkins is an imposing figure and Joplin matches him with strength, and both add a bit of humor, providing relief in this tension filled show.
The play explores power and trust—when this powerful man comes to her house, he is weakened, but she has a gun. The creature has power to track and kill human and animals throughout the countryside, and he feels he has stopped that power by killing the creature, he just needs the evidence to prove it. The king has power to offer a large reward. The woman has power over herbs and weeds to find their medical and pharmacological properties. Power and the powerful keeps shifting throughout the play, that’s what makes it so interesting to watch.
Visually, you will be in for another treat by Andrew J. Hungerford. First, somehow Know fit this large set into the small corner of the lower level, and still provides plenty of seating, keeping the intimate feel. Virginie’s dim cabin is perfect for her, filled with herbs and skins, working lanterns, and a large glowing fireplace. Mara Tunnicliff is the Taxidermy Designer and she’s created some very believable pieces. Noelle Wedig-Johnston’s costumes add color and reflect the period, as does Doug Borntrager’s subtle but effective Sound Design.
Is there room in the play to eliminate the intermission, tighten and build to an uninterrupted conclusion? Oui. But if you’re in the mood for some mystery, professionally performed by some of Cincinnati’s top talent, Know is your place this Halloween season. Call 513-300-KNOW or go to knowtheatre.com for tickets.