Grendel's Mother Unleashes an Affecting, Manic Monologue in Know Theatre's Compelling One-Woman "Feast"

This immersive online offering is a powerful piece of truly in-the-moment theater that pits the state of the modern world against the ancient epic poem, Beowulf

click to enlarge "FEAST" at Know Theatre - PHOTO: ANDREW J. HUNGERFORD
Photo: Andrew J. Hungerford
"FEAST" at Know Theatre

CRITIC'S PICK

In Beowulf, an ancient epic poem from the mists of England’s past, the title character is a kind of hired gun who battles and destroys a pair of monsters, Grendel and his unnamed mother. This epic Old English tale — from more than a thousand years in the past and written with artful alliteration intended for oral delivery — exemplifies a fierce, warlike attitude about heroism.

While Feast, the latest online offering from Know Theatre, could certainly be called fierce, it turns the tables on the epic’s central characters. Feast is a manic monologue spoken by Grendel’s mother, now given a name, “Agathae,” played by Jennifer Joplin. She swings back and forth between a charming hostess and a grieving, furious mother bemoaning her son’s fate — as well as the state of the modern world.

In fact, Agathae lays the sorry state of today’s world squarely at the feet of war-mongering men. She portrays Beowulf as a brutal murderer and the exemplar of a heartless, male-dominant society. Her goal in returning in the form of a comely, mature woman dressed in a pale pink contemporary cocktail ensemble, is to change our perspective and perhaps end her suffering and that of all mothers.

Actor Joplin portrays a woman who is fascinated and horrified by today’s world, but who cannot escape the circumstances of Grendel’s death and dismemberment by Beowulf and her irreconcilable grief. The original tale is set in the feast-hall of Hrothgar, a warrior king whose soldiers have been attacked and decimated by a fearsome monster. Hrothgar has invited Beowulf to do battle where others have failed. But what we learn from Agathae, who lived in a cave at the bottom of a lake, is that she and her family were there long before invaders came, drove them away, and were portrayed as valiant heroes.

That’s where playwright Megan Gogerty begins to extrapolate references to other historic times when native populations were exterminated or driven from their ancestral homes. She rants and raves, sometimes trying to sweetly coax our agreement, sometimes slipping into horrific recollections of her own practices, and eventually demanding us to join her crusade for justice.

Gogerty, an actor and writer, has performed her monologue Lady Macbeth and Her Pal, Megan in the 2017 Cincy Fringe (it was also available this past June in the online 2020 Cincy Fringe). It would seem that she’s intrigued by strong, powerful, if slightly unhinged women. 

That’s certainly the case with Feast, and Joplin is totally immersed in this compelling performance. (It seems to have been filmed in one,  long 75-minute take with a fixed camera. It there were breaks, they’ve been seamlessly edited.) Director Tamara Winters has worked carefully and creatively with the versatile Joplin to keep her moving around the modest contemporary set: a table with books, an upholstered chair, a floor lamp.

Intriguingly, both Gogerty’s script and Winters' direction have Agathae directly addressing the audience by coming in tight on the camera, almost as if she can see us through the lens, on the other side, watching. The breaking of this electronic “fourth wall” is stunning. Her awareness of and fascination with the technology — she sees the internet as a kind of spider web or a fungus — adds another dimension.

Feast is not for the faint of heart: Joplin plays Agathae in a querulous, argumentative manner, confrontational to be sure, and unrestrained on some subjects not usually covered in polite conversation. (If you order up a viewing of Feast, I suggest that your home audience not include young kids.) But Feast takes sharp aim at our modern hearts and pierces them in a most affecting manner. Most who tune in this production will recognize it as a powerful piece of truly in-the-moment theater, a glimpse of one way that performance can continue memorably in today's world.


Feast, produced by Know Theatre, will be available online at knowtheatre.com through Sept. 20. Passes ($10) must be purchased for a specific date: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. To view, you sign in at the appointed hour and then have up to 24 hours to watch.

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