Early Friday evening, I walked west on Central Parkway towards Media Bridges (1100 Race St.), the venue where I was scheduled to watch a 50-minute performance by Ben Egerman. I had just paid a thrifty $1.60 at the Coffee Emporium, and for that I got a paper cup of plain coffee and use of the restroom. Billed as a politically charged and extremely dark comedy, The Beasts seemed like something I could enjoy as well as review: one-man show, post-apocalyptic horror, and puppetry — what’s not to like? I couldn’t wait.
Once I had taken my seat in the black-box theater space, I faced an elevated stage. On two sides of the stage, maybe a fat dozen people had gathered with me to experience the show, billed as taking place in a building secured for generations against what lies outside. Already I was pretty sure it was “the beasts.”
Sure enough, Egerman soon bounded on stage, in character as one of the people in the beleaguered building, apparently in charge of a meeting called to discuss the wisdom of finally opening the door to see what is on the other side. He argued that the building should remain sealed, with the residents secure in their lifestyle.
After a blackout, Egerman returned with a marionette in another corner of the performance space, dangling a pink, vaguely alien-looked animal with big ears, who was prepared to give us a rather uncomplimentary history of the human race. Egerman spoke in a high pitched voice as the puppet, as a drooling assistant with a sort of dog face/hairpiece and a long black robe displayed pieces of cardboard with crude illustrations. We learned that something like the end of the world has occurred, and many human types have been eaten by wolves. Unknown: whether humans still live in the sequestered building.
During the course of the show, more characters were introduced, including a self-defense expert who coached people at the meeting to punch and kick any beast they see, rather than curling up in fear. We met a man of God, who suggested, “We should smite the beasts” and they will return in the form of holy water.
More animals and characters appeared, each discussing from the side of “nature” outside the secure building or inside, where attitudes of fear and advocacy were advanced about whether to open the door. One advocate of opening was the garbage man, who said there was no more room. On the other side, a wolf puppet (a head on a stick with goggles, a pince-nez and a German accent) manipulated by Egerman, waited with a certain eagerness.
A few genuinely funny moments occurred when within the building. Some “relics” have been found in the lobby of the sequestered building, clearly depictions of cartoon characters like Garfield and Marmaduke. Humans have apparently lost the ability to use written language, so the people make wildly inappropriate interpretations of the cartoons’ meaning based on their biases. On the puppet side of the door, we find that animals like whales have proliferated to excess.
During the performance, Egerman seemed to be making up much of the dialogue as he went along. Some of the puppetry was extremely rudimentary, and the intervals he spent offstage (changing, for instance, into a housewife’s apron) were excruciatingly long.
Some people laughed occasionally during the show. Behind me, one person laughed as loud as a sitcom soundtrack, seemingly on cue. Oh well, we all have our ideal audience.
Maybe one day we will all say of Egerman, “We knew him when …” Maybe.