WORDS BY KATIE DOHMAN
It was an epic poem you may have read (or pretended to read) in high school or college: Beowulf, the classic epic poem written between 700 and 750 CE. But playwright Megan Gogerty took a different tack on her one-woman play: This time we’re hearing from Grendel’s mother.
This is not a spoiler, director Allison Vincent says, before she unveils a bit of Gogerty’s plot: “Grendel’s mother, our hostess, has invited us here because she really wants to understand us and have us understand her.” And if you skated through your Lit teacher’s lessons, don’t worry: “You do not need to know anything about Beowulf. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time you’re hearing the name,” she says. “You just need to think you’re meeting this person who really needs to tell you their story. The whole play is about making a connection with the audience and getting them to think about what we consume and why we do that. It’s not pretentious.”
Over dinner—if your choose to purchase an actual Black Forest Inn feast as part of your ticket while you see the play—does ask some big questions, though, including: What sins can be pardoned? Do you trust your leaders? When is violence justified? And…how long has it been since you’ve been touched?
Vincent is no stranger to some of the less traditional theater that Walking Shadow, Feast’s theater company, has produced before. For example, she performed in 21 Extremely Bad Breakups, a play that was also a book of poetry by the same name. “It was a wild ride,” she says. “We used the book word for word, and it was a poem that was not intended to be theater.” She also, for example, helped direct Andrew Wheeler’s one-person show about the history of St. Anthony Falls and Andrew Hickey, a person who “got super drunk and accidentally went over the falls.”
This performance, she says, also bends some of the more traditional ideas of a theater experience. While no one will be asked to participate, a la Tony and Tina’s Wedding, actor Isabel Nelson, who plays Grendel’s mother, adjusts her reactions and acting in real time to the reactions of the audience.
“Minnesotans, we’re very polite and quiet, but it does enhance experience if you want to laugh or gasp—it’s OK to let that out,” Vincent says. “It’s not stuffy theater at all. It’s earthy and grungy and full of heart and humor. Let some of that out of your face if you’re feeling a type of way about it.”
When the house is full and the scent of dinner in is in the air, when the audience members can sort of see each other reacting in real time, Vincent says, a real magic happens. It should feel like a feast, it should feed the appetite of the theatergoer for an experience.
“Speaking for myself, I think patrons are really interested in experience,” she says of theaters opening after waves of COVID-19 shuttered them. “That has high value now. As a culture, we’re leaning more toward the opportunity to have an evening that’s unique and takes us out of the day-to-day because you can access entertainment anywhere, anytime for anything you want at home. But coming out to this—to have this dinner, this live music, and a show that will make you think hard about what you’re participating in—and experience to get you talking on the ride home.”
WHEN YOU GO
Feast, now through April 1
Black Forest Inn, 1 East 26th St., Mpls.