Review: Trinity Rep's 'Beowolf' A Slice-And-Dice Rock Musical

Sep 15, 2016

Trinity Rep opens the theater season with a musical called "Beowolf. A Thousand Years of Baggage." Rhode Island Public Radio Theater Critic Bill Gale says "baggage" is not the word he would use, but whip-smart theater filled with great rock music and talented performers pretty much sums it up.

I suspect that most of us sort of vaguely remember “Beowolf.”  Probably from a long ago literature class, the one that sent you falling back on Spark Notes, or something like that.

Well, forget about that eye-closing, sleep inducing time.

Led by artistic director Curt Columbus, “Beowulf” at Trinity is nothing less than a slice  wildly funny and occasionally insightful.

You might ask if it gets to the original. Does this “Beowulf” do justice to a work that may well have begun the drive, the magnificence of English literature?

The answer is no. It does play around the edges, makes some salient points. But, after all, this “Beowulf”  is really aimed at being a groovy musical.

And on that score it is a winner,  driven by the music of New York-based Dave Malloy and with book and  lyrics by Jason Craig. There's also a brilliant set, superb lighting and some fine performing. So if you go, just be sure to go with it, and you'll have a great time.

You may remember that ”Beowulf” concerns a young man with much energy and true prowess. He rules firmly believing he is special, that he, and he alone, must be the caretaker of his time, of his land, of his compatriots. Does he believe that to fight back is better than to mourn? “Hell, yes,” he says and let the battles begin.

Charlie Thurston plays this man with all kinds of action and strength. He is marvelous at showing us the guy's power. And in the very end, he also finds his character's humanity in a superb performance.

As another leader, Joe Wilson Jr. brings a clear showing of a man who knows that blessings can turn to grief. In their football paraphernalia, Rachael Warren, Rebecca Gibel, Rachel Clausen and Laura Lyman Payne move the play with gorgeous singing and dancing. And veterans Stephen Berenson, Anne Scurria and Janice Duclos play modern day academics with mind-blowing humor and sarcasm.

Oh, and by the way, at intermission you can, should you choose to, go on stage and  scribble all over the place. Or you can simply sit in your seat and once in while smack the big white ball provided by the staff as it bounces around the auditorium.

Clearly then this particular “Beowulf” is a peculiar look at a classic. And you may remember the film “Annie Hall” wherein Woody Allen gave good academic advice to Diane Keaton.

“Just don't take any course where they make you read “Beowulf,”  he says.

Well, that's not the case here. Trinity Rep's “Beowulf” is a good thing to see. As long as you take for what it is.  

"Beowolf" continues at Trinity Rep through October 9th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.