Beowulf Adapted by Charles Bethel
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Charles Bethel
Orlando Shakespeare center, Orlando FL
Down on the other end of the Shakespeare Center, there was a lecture on how war Bad For Children And Other Living Things. But up here, in a room more than a few of us refer to as “Pink,” a tinge of blood filled the air, and it was glorious. Bane of English students, inspiration for the Lord of the Rings, and earliest example of our native tongue we hear Beowulf in modern and highly entertaining translation. Maybe you struggled with the thorns and eths and the obsolete words in this Two Troll tail, but that’s the academic approach: good in its own way, like oatmeal and skipping dessert. But this is a battle saga, the Pop Rocks and Pepsi sort of tale that entertained warriors after a hard day of beheading their fellow man. Grab a flagon of metheglin and pull up a bench. Here – let me wipe off the blood.
Beowulf is the hero of Geetland, which is where the Goths come from. When he hears about trouble in Denmark, he sails over, deals with the coast guard, and agrees to help his buddy King Hrothgar by defeating the monster Grendel who eats warriors in the middle of the night. Epic battles ensue, Grendel dies and that enrages his mother, limbs are sundered and honor won, symbolism pervades the stage and soon Beowulf rules Denmark after Hrothgar dies but before Claudius arrives. Late in his rule, Beowulf must defeat a dragon, and if I didn’t know it was the other way round, I would say he stole this scene right out of “The Hobbit.”
Bethel has done a superb job in adapting this rousing take to the modern ear and modern stage. It clocks in at about one hour, drips with bloody humor and reduces these epic heroes to regular guys who eat and fart and fall asleep at the wrong time. In the telling, he return this tale to what it began as – an evening entertainment with heroism, bravery, treachery, and the one moral that will never fail – we are bound to die, so let us enjoy the moment. All that gold you fought for shall be buried and burnt and thrown away when you die. Thus, take that gold and buy a ticket for this show and a horn of ale and enjoy your time while Mr. Bethel is alive and on our stage.
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