1000 Years of Baggage

I have lived in NY for almost two years now and one of my favorite theatre experiences of ALL TIME has to be the Beowulf Songplay.  They don’t exactly call it a musical, and I agree with the decision not too, but it still has singing and it it is still a foot stompin’, blood-n-guts, good time.

I originally watched this show on the lower east side about a year ago. It was a collaboration of theatre companies Banana Bag and Bodice and the Shotgun Players in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It is now about to play AGAIN at Joe’s Pub TONIGHT (Sept 2) and Saturday (Sept. 4).  If you are free, I’m in strong support of you checking it out.

What pushed this show ahead of everything else for me was the brilliant construction of its story.  When the Play first begins three academics enter the stage and take seats at a panel.  One is a frumpy male professor, one is a sort of new age Feminist, and one is a pantsuit-wearing hair tied back academic bitch (No other way to say it). They are giving a academic lecture on Beowulf brilliantly acted in a stuffy snore-fest manner. but with the help of some microphone feedback and a building drum part the story comes to life behind the panel.  Throughout the night the play jumps back and forth between the panel of storytellers and and the story itself, but the distinction slowly begins blurring.

The play is funny. One liners fly left and right and the mock wrestling ring in the center of the stage comically blends machismo then with a smackdown machismo now. The songs are simple, but include beautiful lyrics such as “this is my body, fight with my body.”

The play is also smart. The most brilliant aspect of the storytelling is that the academics eventually get dragged onstage. who do they play? the monsters.  The frumpy professor is the Grendel, the feminist is the Grendel’s Mother, and the pantsuit-wearing leader of the pack becomes the dragon.

I remember being blown away.  How perfect that academia becomes his enemies.  And in the end they actually kill him.  Maybe this is just a story about penises and swords. Maybe it’s was told only to entertain and to cause visceral reactions of fear and laughter. Maybe we are overstepping our boundaries trying to apply 20th century Freud or modern day philosophy to the heroes of 9th century Scandinavia.

There’s something very human and enjoyable in the shows rough edges. Try to check it out if you can and recommend similar works if you’ve seen them.  Here’s a quick video for the show.

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