Review by Karen Topham, ChicagoOnstage, member American Theatre Critics Association; photo by Kamille Dawkins
The traditional British fox hunt, of course, features hunters on horseback and packs of dogs on long leashes tracking down an elusive fox for some reason alleged to be sport. British playwright Titas Halder turns that old image on edge in his one-man play Run the Beast Down, now streaming online from Strawdog Theatre.
In the play, a monologue in seven scenes directed by Elly Green, a young man named Charlie (Gage Wallace) finds his life—and his sanity—falling apart after losing both his job and his girlfriend Alex on the same day just after the 2008 recession hits London. In the aftermath of these events, Charlie is left suddenly alone and unemployed in a city in which gangs of “feral” boys run rampant and urban foxes seem to have dismembered a neighbor’s cat and send haunting cries into the night.
Charlie, who can’t fall asleep since Alex left—he tells us that “without her body beside me, I didn’t know what shape to make”—stays up all night staring out into the garden obsessing over the foxes, emotionally confusing them with the animal he calls the “king of the woods,” a fox he had encountered in the forest behind his house when he was a child. Other people, including Alex and his former colleague James, worry about him as he becomes more and more feral himself, his unraveling mind turning inward to half-imagined encounters with his friends and the beast.
It’s difficult to tell how much of what Charlie says is truth and how much is the product of his increasing schizophrenia, but Wallace is expressive, intense and exciting as he allows us to watch this slow breakdown, blending clearly real moments with fantastic descriptions that warp past and present and morph Charlie with the beast he fears. Director of Photography Kamille Dawkins and Green work together to take us on a journey deep inside a troubled mind, while Daniel Etti-Williams adds sounds both realistic and dreamlike. This is a production that manages to benefit from the pandemic’s requirement of taking the art online.
If this first production of Strawdog’s “Virtual Season” is an indication, the theatre (and Dawkins, its interim Artistic Director) is up to its self-appointed task of keeping its audiences “engaged and connected” during this forced break from live plays. We’re all missing so much these days; it feels wonderful to return to the theatre even with the limitations we are stuck with before we find ourselves, like Charlie, completely losing it.
Run the Beast Down is now available for streaming online through October 25 from strawdog.org. The show runs approximately 75 minutes. Find more information about current plays in our front page recs and at theatreinchicago.com.