Ava Roy and Nathaniel Justiniano appear in “Heromonster,” an invigorating performance piece inspired by the Old English epic poem “Beowulf.” (Courtesy Lauren Matley)

Ava Roy and Nathaniel Justiniano appear in “Heromonster,” an invigorating performance piece inspired by the Old English epic poem “Beowulf.” (Courtesy Lauren Matley)

We Players bring heroes, monsters to life

Three dynamic performers comprise “Heromonster,” a one-of-kind production, both earthly and other-worldly, in the chapel at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center.

The piece is the latest creation from We Players, best known for large-cast, site-specific shows inspired by classics in wide outdoor expanses. (“Ondine,” based on a French and German tale of a water sprite and a knight, was set at Sutro Baths; an all-day version of Homer’s “Odyssey” took place across Angel Island.)

The equally appealing “Heromonster,” however, takes a more intimate tack, with just three artists: We Players’ founder Ava Roy, Nathaniel Justiniano, and saxophonist-composer Charlie Gurke.

The trio fills the World War II-era chapel, which doubles as the mead hall in the Old English epic, “Beowulf,” which is the inspiration, rather than literal basis, for the wet and wild piece.

Audience members (who sit on pews around a long banquet table that more or less serves as the stage), however, need not have special knowledge of Anglo-Saxon history or literature to appreciate “Heromonster.”
They should be prepared to be part of a communal experience in the hall.

At the outset, the actors (playing both heroes and monsters, but not specific characters in a linear story), even introduce a few guests in period fashion, asking them to name their ancestors.

At one point, they invite: “You are welcome here; in your honor, we drink,” and bottles of quite high-octane mead are passed around.

And even though the lights never go down, all attention remains on the mesmerizing Roy and Justiniano, who act out seemingly every human emotion in a series of confrontations and pairings, portraying aggressors and prey.

They recite poetic, rapid dialogue, sometimes in unison, sometimes in exchanges. Sometimes there’s chanting.
Clothed in knee-length pants, and bandage-like tops, they dance, fight, connect with, and yes, abuse each other. A large white swath of cloth, which flows, billows, twists and ties, serves almost as a third character.

A hilarious, sort of anachronistic segment has the heroes (or are they monsters?) blowing up balloons, attaching them to their bodies while they one-up each other, sounding like politicians as they boast — before they pop the balloons on each other.

Gurke, wearing a monk-like brown robe, provides musical accompaniment throughout: sometimes the saxophone is jarring and blares, sometimes it’s haunting and melodic.

By the end of the just-over-an-hour experience, meat is eaten, blindfolds are employed, and both characters have submerged their head in a bowl of water.

Along the way, provocative questions are asked: What’s worse — to feel or not to feel? And, how can I be more loving to you?

At the show’s conclusion, after farewells are bid, the dining table is filled with a real banquet. In a lovely epilogue to complete the exhilarating group experience, visitors are invited break bread with the actors and each other.

REVIEW
Heromonster
Presented by We Players
Where: Fort Mason Center Chapel, near Bay and Franklin streets, S.F.
When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15-16, Oct. 18, Oct. 22-25, 6:15 p.m. Oct. 29-31, 5:15 p.m. Nov. 1
Tickets: $45
Contact: (415) 345-7575, www.fortmason.org

Ava RoyBeowulfCharlie GurkeeromonsterFort Mason chapelNathaniel JustinianoWe Players

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Methamphetamines (Sophia Valdes/SF Weekly)
New search launched for meth sobering center site

Pandemic put project on pause but gave health officials time to plan a better facility

Hasti Jafari Jozani quarantines at her brother's San Francisco home after obtaining several clearances to study at San Francisco State University. (Photo courtesy Siavash Jafari Jozani)
Sanctions, visas, and the pandemic: One Iranian student’s bumpy path to SF State

Changing immigration rules and travel restrictions leave some overseas students in limbo

Woody LaBounty, left, and David Gallagher started the Western Neighborhoods Project which has a Balboa Street office housing historical items and comprehensive website dedicated to the history of The City’s West side. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Outside Lands podcasts delve in to West side’s quirky past

History buffs Woody LaBounty and David Gallagher have been sharing fun stories about the Richmond and Sunset since 1998

After the pandemic hit, Twin Peaks Boulevard was closed to vehicle traffic, a situation lauded by open space advocates. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
New proposal to partially reopen Twin Peaks to vehicles pleases no one

Neighbors say closure brought crime into residential streets, while advocates seek more open space

Protesters rally at the site of a proposed affordable housing project at 2550 Irving St. in the Sunset District on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (Ming Vong/S.F. Examiner)
Sunset District affordable housing discussion flooded with ‘scare tactics and hysteria’

Project would provide 100 units, some of which would be designated for formerly homeless families

Most Read