The description for Beast reads: “Egon is a painter. Valie is a prostitute…lust can be beastly, but so can decay.”
Are we in for a provocative treat? As it turns out, this Cambridge version of Elena Bolster’s verse play, apparently the first ever student production, is more poignant than provocative. In any case, it was certainly a delight to be there.
Sam Grabiner, in the role of the aging and decaying artist, and Laura Waldren, in the role of his youthful muse, are brilliant. Bolster herself would have approved.
The genius of Bolster is in her portrayal of the relationship between Egon and Valie: while defined as lust, it is not vulgar. What begins as a playful encounter of pursuit and tease develops into something intense. Meanwhile, it’s easy to see why Egon and Valie would have been attracted to each other. The loneliness facing Egon and the loss and desperation felt by Valie arising from material deprivation lead the two people to needing one another – to fill that void that the cruel world has left in their hearts.
As lights turn out in between each set, Egor becomes sick. He decays. Yet Valie stands by his side and urges him to retain his youthful vigour and beastly appetite for her. It’s all beautifully portrayed by the two actors, filling the breath-taking hour by themselves.
A beast, revealed as we decay, may just be the primitive and innocent state where it is permitted to pursue the physical desires before giving rational and calculated thoughts on whether a relationship is worth pursuing or not. At least, this was my take on the message.
One small downside was that the later scenes dragged on a bit too long, making the falling action relatively long in comparison to the rising action. Regardless of this, do check out the play yourself.
It’s worth it.