New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

Irish Repertory Theatre, Manhattan

The Irish Rep provides a unique theatrical experience, as it launches its 2005-2006 season. Nothing prepares us for the shock of “Beowulf,” as this new show is titled.

Though program notes bill “Beowulf” as a rock opera, this is like no rock opera we’ve experienced before. Electric guitars are missing, to be replaced by a Celtic harp and a harmonium. And in contrast to the usual elaborate extravaganza on a broad stage, “Beowulf” is played out on a pocket-size stage with puppets, early instruments, and a seven-man chorus.

“Beowulf,” as any one who studied English literature in high school knows, was the earliest story known to be written in English and dates back to the sixth century. It is the epic tale of a Scandinavian prince, a hero who slays monsters and dragons in the service of kings.

But director Charlotte Moore and company have given us their own version of this epic tale. With an adaptation by Lindsey Turner (who co-wrote the lyrics with Lenny Picket), the story comes to life powerfully. The seven men stomp about, wage battles, bond with each other, and roar out their story musically. Throughout the non-stop 90-minute piece, the haunting eerie music never ceases. Written by Pickett), it is flawlessly conducted by Mark Janas (who also plays the harmonium).

Sixth century Scandanavia is a man’s world, as clearly shown in this piece.

The ladies in distress are mere cardboard cut-outs, tossed about by strong-armed performers. And the shadow puppets, giant monsters, and a light-flashing dragon provide further non-human backdrops for Beowulf and his comrades.

The men, with beautifully trained voices, due justice to the score, with its frequently atonal passages. Richard Barth, particulary, brings a powerful voice to the role of Beowulf. But the slim small Barth hardly looks the part of conquering hero, and one wonders if director Moore is making a sly joke in thus casting the role.

But, overall, “Beowulf” is a new piece which launches the Irish Rep season in high style.

-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 15, 2005

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