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Eric Woolfe plays a timid file clerk tormented by a demonic mouse.
Photo ByDavid Laurence
Grendelmaus by Eric Woolfe, directed by Michael Waller, with Woolfe and Mary Francis Moore. Presented by Eldritch Theatre at the Berkeley Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Opens tonight (Thursday, June 6) and runs to June 22, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, mats Saturday 2 pm (except June 8). $15, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110.

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NOW Theatre Preview, June  6 - June 12, 2002

SCARE TACTICS

ACTOR/WRITER ERIC WOOLFE REVITALIZES THE ROMANCE HORROR GENRE WITH GRENDELMAUS

eric woolfe is bringing fun back to the indie theatre scene. He's cornering the market on strange, creepy tales with lots of laughs and smarts.Last year, his SummerWorks play Sideshow Of The Damned stirred up sex and horror in a scary-funny homage to exploitative old fright films. Audiences ate it up. Look for an expanded remount around Halloween.

This week he unleashes the much more ambitious Grendelmaus. It's the tale of a demonic little rodent who takes over the apartment of a nebbishy file clerk (Woolfe), jeopardizing the man's chances with his love interest (bittergirl's Mary Francis Moore).

Sure, Woolfe has a twisted imagination. Funny thing is, much of the play is true.

"A few years ago I was living in a bachelor apartment, and one night I heard the dishes shake," begins Woolfe, whose off-the-cuff stories are as good as many writers' finished works.

"I thought the dishes must just be settling. The next day I noticed a chair slightly out of place, books thumbed through and these little things I tried to convince myself were poppy seeds."

It wasn't long before a greyish mouse scuttled over to the middle of the floor and stared down the playwright, who jumped up, left the room and bought every trap he could find.

No luck. Traps loaded with peanut butter and bacon were miraculously robbed of their bait. Glue traps were ignored. And soon Woolfe's beady-eyed nemesis began casually appearing during the day, unafraid even when the broom came out.

"Eventually, I started to respect it," says Woolfe, who wrote the first draft of the play during his job a paper-pushing file clerk. "I just moved. I gave him the apartment. As far as I know, he's still there."

The title is a reference to Beowulf's über monster, Grendel, and the play borrows from that epic's structure and language. But there's also plenty of Kafka and Gogol in the nightmarish office scenes, and all the character names come from Moby Dick, one of Woolfe's favourite novels and, of course, another man-vs.-monster tale.

Yet for all the script's literary sophistication, its unusual mix of romance, comedy and horror -- think Play It Again, Sam meets David Cronenberg -- should be the draw.

It's no surprise that Woolfe is a huge horror fan. A former child actor who started out in plays at London's Grand Theatre, he remembers staying up late to watch Lon Chaney Jr. and Dario Argento films with his dad.

"The popular conception of horror changed after the film Halloween," he explains. "All these wonderful archetypes that go back to the 1800s and E.T.A. Hoffman are forgotten, and now all you have are stories where large-breasted women are killed. That's too bad. It's like comedy only being Adam Sandler stories."

Woolfe just finished a year as the meerkat in the musical The Lion King, an experience that influenced the look and sound of Grendelmaus.

Just as the Lion King used untranslated Zulu, Woolfe uses some Old English words and phrases in the play, confident that the rich sounds will evoke feelings and moods even if people don't understand the literal meaning.

But more importantly, he got to use the musical's puppet workshop to borrow ideas and techniques for constructing his own play's two dozen or so puppets, which range from a tiny mouse on a stick to a 12-foot giant.

While Woolfe appreciates the irony of spending a year playing a creature who preys on little mice, he also laughingly points out the differences between working on a mega-musical and a tiny little indie play.

"For The Lion King they had these stacks of T-shirts during rehearsals so we wouldn't get sweaty and cold," he says. "With this show, I'm going to the bank down the street to steal a bunch of forms for an office scene." the endglenns@nowtoronto.comtheatre preview