Encore Michigan

‘Man Beast’ riffs on Wolfman at Penny Seats

Review October 20, 2023 David Kiley

ANN ARBOR, MI–It’s Halloween, so it’s the season for another Joseph Zettelmaier horror yard,

“The Man Beast” is playing at The Stone Chalet Theatre here, produced by Penny Seats, as part of its “Dreadful series (as in “Penny Dreadful”). It is the third Zettelmaier play in a trilogy of plays that riff off the classic monster stories: Frankenstein, Dracula and now The Wolfman.

The Man Beast is an adaptation of the Wolfman story popularized in the 1941 film, The Wolfman,” which has been remade a number of times in sequels or re-adaptations. Some scholars believe the werewolf made its debut in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known Western prose, when Gilgamesh jilted a potential lover because she had turned her previous mate into a wolf. Werewolves made another early appearance in Greek mythology with the Legend of Lycaon.

But Zettlemaier combines elements of the original story idea with non-fiction—an 18th-century story, which may or not be true, about a creature with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. The creature reportedly dispatched more than 100 people in grisly attacks.

The play opens in rural France with forest-hunter Jean Chastel (Jonsthan Davidson) yelling outside the cabin of Virginie Allard (Brittany Bell). He’s been attacked by a “beast” known as “Loup-Garou.” Virginie, the local taxidermist – and, some say, witch is a tantalizing figure in her own right and as she says, “knows some things about things.”

Directed by Julia Garlotte, both actors exhibit the kind of unwashed roughness typical of the 18th century French countryside. Davidson sports a long, wooly beard and simple garb. Virginie, like the set, may be a bit too clean and tidy for a woman who spends her days butchering animals in the woods and stuffs them into imposing and menacing figures by carefully wiring their bones as she stuffs them with material like sawdust and wool.

The two form a sexual connection, but never fully trust one another. Chastel catches a ferocious beast of strange origin, and Virginie spends several days stuffing it in order to present to the French King who has offered a reward to the hunter that captures Loup Garou. Chastel, for reasons he insists are not selfish, he presents the animal to the King’s Court with the story that he killed and stuffed the animal.

Chastel and Virginie mostly bounce between bullying and trying to intimidate one another and climbing one another with sexual passion. Each jousts verbally and physically to get an upper hand.

Laying in the background of the story is the fact that Chastel was bitten at the start of the story by the beast, and we wonder what effect that may have on the opportunistic hunter.

I can’t say that the ending of the story is surprising but the overall power of the play is rightfully gloomy, fraught, dark, menacing, and ultimately an entertaining and rewarding experience…especially in late October when spooky and gloomy is as welcome as the smell of dried Autumn leaves.

The set, by Forrest Hejkal, is a believable forest cabin complete with many pieces of taxidermy (loaned by patrons), if a bit too clean to be authentic for 18th century. Bennett Black designed lighting effects. Joseph Caradonna on Sound Design. Costumes to place the actors in the right time and place by Emily Brod.

The Man Beast plays through October 22. Check the website for showtimes and tickets.