Fringe performers have to overcome any number of technical limitations when they put up their plays. For Claire Carroll, that meant having to stage a new play featuring a field full of cattle at a venue in Penn Quarter that, somewhat unfairly, boasts not a single cow.

Her simple and effective solution is to make use of the herd of silent, slack-jawed beasts that are already in there: us. By addressing her one-woman show directly to the audience — endowing us with an air of bovinity — Carroll gets to have her beef and meet it too.

Since the word ‘ruminate’ originates from the Latin ‘to chew on,’ it’s fitting that we find ourselves grazing in a field in the southwestern English countryside just as Carroll’s character, Belinda, arrives to the meadow, after trudging through the mud all day on a walking holiday. She arrives  flustered and lost, recently separated from the main trail upon which, we soon learn, her insurance salesman husband Dick treads tirelessly onward.

She’s been left behind — a theme that starts to resonate as the show progresses. Dick has sprung this vacation, Belinda confides in us, as a chance “to refresh our relationship,” but these cows ain’t seen hide nor hair of him, and it’s doubtful he’ll be looping back. They’re out of sync, Belinda explains. He’s changed since the early days, and she’s stayed the same.

This interesting, ambiguous moment of Belinda’s isolation — did husband abandon wife, or had wife been aiming to secede? — is but one slice of this narrative, which grows as organically as the grass under our feet. Although Carroll arrives to the stage adorned with windbreaker, binoculars, and backpack, she’s soon setting up a temporary camp for herself (a French press and a pair of soft slippers — much better!) and telling today’s woes to the only other living souls around.

The tale that unfolds — an entertaining brain-dump of concerns and reflections that touch on work, family, love, and faded dreams — gives us a window onto a woman who cares deeply enough to worry that she no longer cares deeply. The character of Belinda is, surely, an intimate blend of Carroll’s own particular facts and fictions, and her tone conveys both an ease of speech and a smart, succinct mind underneath.

Having spent my childhood years in the country, surrounded by pastures, I can attest to the strange power of cows to elicit confidence, and even confession. At one point in Beef Encounter, Belinda admits to finding more compassion in the eyes of the cows than in her husband’s eyes. The current underneath that comment — a longing for new friends, new places, and a new way of walking through life — is affecting in its subtlety.

The English-born Carroll fits her persona like a well-worn hiking boot, illuminating Belinda’s warm, quiet circuit of thought while still having enough fun to salt her saga with frequent jokes and humorous moments. The show is brief — about 50 minutes — but it’s the perfect length for its intended scope: a time of transition for a single waylaid soul, caught at the proverbial fork in life’s meadow path.

“It’s rather therapeutic, talking to you lot,” she says by the end. As she packs up her bag once again to move on, she smiles as if surprised by the depth of her one-way conversation. We just silently chew our cud, but we secretly like her back.

Beef Encounter has 5 performances, ending July 26, 2012, at Caos on F, 923 F St NW, Washington, DC.

Hunter rates this 4 out of a possible 5.

Capital Fringe Review: ‘Beef Encounter’ by Grace Kim

DC Metro Theatre Arts

July 17, 2012   Grace Kim

Take pause from your daily grind and go on a walking holiday with Belinda Donovan (Claire Carroll, and writer of the play) as she walks through the English countryside. Becoming lost as her husband Richard and other traveling “friends” Julie and Jules forge ahead, Belinda decides to take a break in a pasture where cows are grazing and doing whatever English cows do in the countryside. For Belinda, it becomes the perfect place for some therapy as she reflects on her life and the horridness of a walking holiday, for bloody sakes she’d much rather be on a cruise or other some such more luxurious holiday.

As she starts to place her rucksack down and spread out her items for a little picnic break, Belinda continues her witty quips and complaints about her immediate surroundings and life situation while drinking coffee from her ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mug. Finding humor in finding herself in a pasture of cows and realizing her audience are the cows she’s facing, she quips that this is what being an actor in front of an audience must feel like – followed immediately by lines like “…to kobe or not to kobe…” and deadpan delivery of jokes like, “What do you get from pampered cows? Spoiled milk.” Even through lines like these, the delivery is still beautiful thanks to her British accent–doesn’t everything sound just so nice said in British?

As the monologue progresses, we learn Belinda has been married for 15 years to Richard, sometimes derogatorily called Dick, and that things aren’t going so well in their marriage. In fact, this walking holiday was Richard’s idea to “refresh their relationship.” But to Belinda, it’s just exhausting and the most un-fun thing anyone could do for a vacation.  Ohh, she’s mad about this idea and we know it through her sarcasm, but interestingly, it’s exactly this horrid walking holiday that helps Belinda come to a realization about herself that leaves her feeling stronger and empowered by the end of this break. Cows, apparently, make for great listeners and though Belinda thought she needed someone to listen and give her advice…. what she realizes has always been inside her.  She just needed to find it.

Beef Encounter, beautifully delivered by British actor and writer Claire Carroll, will charm your American socks off. It’s udderly delightful!