The Monster Within: Penny Seat’s "The Man Beast" exposes the demons inside us all


The Penny Seats' production of The Man Beast.

Jean Chastel (Jonathan Davidson) and Virginie Allard (Brittany Batell) wrestle with personal demons during Penny Seats' The Man Beast. Photo via The Penny Seats' Facebook.

On a rainy and ominous Friday night, The Penny Seats Theatre Company launched the fifth installation of its Penny Dreadful series with The Man Beast—a scandalous tale of greed, monsters, lust, and the human connection—at Ann Arbor's Stone Chalet Event Center. 

Set in the Gévaudan province of France in 1767, Joseph Zettelmaier's play opens with famed hunter Jean Chastel (played by the brooding Jonathan Davidson) stumbling into a cottage, arm bloodied and clearly in pain. The cabin belongs to Virginie Allard (Brittany Batell), a rumored witch of the woods. 

Chastel claims to have been bitten by The Man Beast, a mysterious creature that has murdered over 100 people in the last three years. Virginie cleans his wound, gives him stitches, and tries to convince him to stay for a little while. While they both live secluded in the woods, they rarely cross paths and Virginie admits to being lonely. 

Through cups of wine and conversation, we learn that Virginie is a widow and a talented taxidermist. Her cabin is full of animal pelts and her creations, including a bear mounted on the wall. 

We also learn that Chastel was injured because he was actually out hunting The Man Beast. King Louis has offered a hefty reward for anyone who can kill it and bring him the corpse, and Chastel is determined to do just that. He even claims to have shot the beast in the chest but it was able to simply get back up and run away. Virginie explains that to kill the creature, you have to use a silver bullet.

A week goes by and Chastel comes back to Virginie’s cabin but this time he has a plan. He proposes they work together; he will go out and bring back a truly terrifying corpse of a creature that no one has seen before, she will use her taxidermy skills to make it as terrifying as possible, and then Chastel will present it to the King, claiming it is the beast that has been killing everyone. He reassures Virginie that the ruse will work and he will split the reward with her 50/50. She agrees and talk of wealth and trickery breaks their sexual tension.

After traveling to a far-off menagerie, where no one close to them would have seen the rare animals within, Chastel brings back a body and Virginie stuffs it. Before letting Chastel see it, she makes a blood pact with him, saying he will be cursed if he betrays her. She displays her final work of art and Chastel brings it to the capital. Their ruse works! The King believes it to be the actual beast and Chastel brings home the money. 

To keep their secret safe, Chastel claims that Virginie is not allowed to speak about the beast or claim the taxidermy as her own. People know her as a witch, and they will believe she tricked them if they knew of her involvement. However, Chastel goes around bragging about his kill and takes all the credit. He even claims to have sewed it up himself, infuriating Virginie. Their relationship takes a turn for the worst and a major plot twist at the end is juicy and unexpected. 

Davidson and Batell have awesome chemistry, arguing and at each other’s throats one moment, while passionately kissing the next. Sharing the stage almost the entire time, it’s impressive to watch the actors banter back and forth for two hours (there’s an intermission) and never break their connection. Zettelmaier has written a strong female character in Virginie, giving her layers of toughness while also writing in moments of tenderness and vulnerability that Battell nails. 

Director Julia Garlotte cast this show perfectly and uses the limited levels of the small stage well, showing the constantly changing power dynamic between the two characters. The eerie concept of the play is ideal for Halloween time and all monster lovers should make their way to the Stone Chalet to see this one.

Marley Boone is a theater professional who has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she wrote theater reviews for DC Metro Arts.

"The Man Beast" runs through October 22 at the Stone Chalet Event Center, 1917 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor. For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit