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Grendelmaus a show to relish
By Robert Crew



By Eric Woolfe. Directed by Michael Waller. At Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley St. until June 22.


It's a whale of a story and a fishy one at that.


Grendelmaus, Eric Woolfe's latest show, blends the Old English poem Beowulf and Herman Melville's Moby Dick and comes up with something that is neither fish nor fowl but highly enjoyable nonetheless.


It opens with a puppet show, recounting how the monster Grendel haunted King Hrothgar's hall and slew his men until he himself is taken apart by a warrior named Beowulf.


"My mother's going to kick your ass," Grendel predicts as he dies.


But what actually happens is that a pesky white mouse comes along and drinks Grendel's blood, thereby becoming immortal, malevolent and doomed to roam the Earth forever, a sort of Wandering Shrew.


Flash forward a few hundred years and we meet Ismael, a shy but erudite filing clerk, who meets up with Rachel, his high school flame who ran away to the circus to become an acrobat.


The two begin a courtship but their relationship is threatened by a strange white mouse.


As he did with his earlier play, The Strange And Eerie Memoirs Of Billy Wuthergloom, Woolfe mixes live actors in this case himself and Mary Francis Moore with a series of grotesque puppets, some tiny, some larger than life, to create a dark but not too chilling fairy tale of man versus mouse.


Part of the fun is that Ismael (the names are right out of Moby Dick) speaks learnedly of Jung while Rachel chats away using the argot of the three-ring circus. When Rachel and Grendelmaus' baby is born, they call it Starbuck.


The writing is impishly literate. One delightful example: Rachel's final instruction as she ends their relationship is: "Don't call me, Ismael."


Both Moore and Woolfe tackle their multiple roles with zest and the acting is full-blooded and high-spirited, although one or two lines are swallowed up amid the melodrama.


No one is able to blend fantasy and theatre in quite the way that Woolfe does. If you are in the mood for theatrical whimsy, this is a show to relish.