Featuring Eric Woolfe and Mary Francis Moore. Written by Eric Woolfe. Directed by Michael Waller. To June 22. Mon-Sat 8pm, plus Sat 2pm. $15, Mon PWYC. Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley. 416-368-3110. www.eldritchtheatre.ca.
Take a cup of Beowulf, add a few heaping tablespoons of Willard and a dash of Moby Dick, then whip it up in the warped blender of writer/performer Eric Woolfe's imagination. The result is a creepy and blackly comic two-hand fable called Grendelmaus.
It begins with a brief puppet show, narrated by Mary Francis Moore, that sets up the legend of Beowulf the warrior and Grendel, the monster he slays. It takes place in their once-upon-a-time land, but there is a twist. A mouse feasts on Grendel's gore, develops evil powers and a lot of attitude, and is doomed to walk the earth forever, spreading death, discord and all manner of nastiness.
One person targeted for this nastiness is Ishmael (Woolfe), an office clerk who already has a phobia about mice, and who naturally has a fit when he comes across one in his apartment. Little does he know it's no ordinary mouse, but one that wants to destroy every aspect of his life, including his job, his lodgings, and his new love affair with fellow clerk Rachel (Moore).
What really recommends Grendelmaus is the mood created by the two very watchable actors and director Michael Waller, plus the dozens of puppets of various sizes designed and primarily operated by Woolfe, most of which are given sharply individual personalities. The play's feel is both epic and admirably claustrophobic, and this is helped by Joanne Dente's sparse but effective scenic design and the small stage.
There's more inventiveness, intelligence, fun, heart and raw talent in Grendelmaus than you're likely to find combined in six or seven other plays of the same size. I hope it finds audiences larger than the 12 who attended the preview performance I saw and who seemed to enjoy themselves as much as I did. DOUGLAS HICTON