published Sunday, July 21, 2019
Dallas — The Beast of Hyperborea, presented by Audacity Theatre Lab, takes its inspiration from fantastical works by the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. Creator and performer Brad McEntire (the driving force behind this cutting-edge “theatre collective”) has put together a truly ripping yarn in classic Victorian style for his one-man entry in the Festival of Independent Theatres.
McEntire plays Edward Joseph Reade, a mild-mannered accountant and sole survivor of a doomed 1895 expedition to the mysterious isle of Hyperborea—fictitiously north of Scotland and south of the Arctic Circle—and home to the titular Beast. Presenting his tale as a sort of lecture to an "unseen" audience, Reade recounts how, after answering a newspaper advertisement seeking a bookkeeper, he was swept up into a series of ever-more dramatic and larger-than-life adventures.
All the characters are portrayed with dazzling nuance by McEntire: famed aeronaut Captain Saltwood; expert mountain climber and martial artist the Baron Frichte; and big-game hunter and all-around adventuress Marie Clemeneau. The daring crew, led by Saltwood, sets out to explore the mysterious and uncharted island where Saltwood’s comrade (and Marie’s father) met his end at the hands of the Beast, leaving behind him a journal detailing his discoveries. The trio of adventurers and the reluctant Reade begin to grow closer as they speed toward their destination, likening themselves to Dumas’ Musketeers. How tragic, then, that Reade alone survives the perilous journey and the violent confrontation with the Beast, and must shoulder the duty of presenting proof of the island’s (and the creature’s) existence.
On a simply lit stage with minimal set and sound design, McEntire commands the space and deftly avoids the common pitfalls of a one-man show. Each character he portrays is distinct without tipping into cartoonish excess. While his Reade is a quiet, self-effacing sort, ill-suited for adventures (as the Hobbits would say, “nasty, dirty, uncomfortable things—make you late for dinner”), Captain Saltwood is a bluff, squinting man’s man. Contrast them with the effete Baron (presented with a competent, if slightly obscure, Germanic accent) and the cool, daring Marie, who dispatches misogynists and monsters with equal élan. The audience was spellbound, reacting with gasps and laughter, and was a hairsbreadth away from outright cheering at an unexpected resurrection. (From the start we know all but one are doomed—but McEntire leaves room for surprise.)
The show’s final, silent moments, accompanied by a cleverly period-accurate slideshow, was unexpectedly poignant. Bravo to McEntire for bringing not only the thrills to his tall tale, but heart as well.
This one’s a “can’t miss” in my book.
» The Beast of Hyperborea is performed:
- 8 p.m. Thursday, July 25
- 8 p.m. Saturday, July 27
- 5 p.m. Sunday, July 28
- 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3
To see a breakdown of the groups and shows, go here.
To see reviews and more coverage of FIT, see our special section here.