The word “hypocrisy” was stuck in my mind after leaving Theatre MSU’s “Beowulf.” A significant part of the story was the false appearance of virtue. This rendition combined the cost of being a hero with intense story elements that ask how far someone is willing to go to be remembered.
Cody Stockstill, an assistant professor and coordinator of Theatre MSU, directed this production. His vision allowed for everyone in the cast and crew to reach the audience on an emotional level. That goal was successful, as Theatre MSU has created something truly remarkable with this adaption.
This production portrays the epic Old English poem adapted by Nathan Cleveland, Preslie Cowley, Cody Stockstill and Jon Tackett. This adaption is meant for mature audiences, mostly due to intense violence, disturbing scenes and some explicit language. The themes refuse to sugar-coat the intensity.
As far as the acting talent goes, I could write endless paragraphs regarding their exceptional efforts in this production. The entire cast was brilliant, from the main leads to the minor roles. They all brought incredible quirks to their characters which left them memorable. Their dedication brought the story to life, and everyone had a moment to captivate the audience.
“Beowulf” is about a warrior aiming for glory, focusing on the sacrifices made when battling evil other humans refuse to accept. Like all theatrical productions, the weight lives or dies with the pacing. I will admit the first act had some slow moments. Then, I realized the first act was half an hour longer, and I got over it.
During the intermission, I heard praise for every aspect of the performance except for the pace. Immediately following the final scene of the performance, I heard members of the audience weeping and giving a standing ovation. This story needs the extra time for the audience to grow invested. The expository dialogue feels like a steep learning curve, but the weight truly hits in the second act.
While the performances bring the story to life, the design works to keep the audience immersed. When audiences see the detail of the set, they will be floored by the subtle intricacies. Heorot Hall looks magnificent, but the shift to the cave was extraordinarily clever. The performers' costumes focused on practicality, especially in terms of how the movement was incorporated. Each of the props served an important purpose, refusing to be meaningless. Commendation must be awarded to the lighting and sound operators, who made the special effects incredibly effective.
Emma Denson played Heigla, a female warrior and mother to Beowulf’s daughter. Denson wanted to convey how this production differs from the initial source material.
“It’s not the ‘Beowulf’ people think they know. It’s a 'Beowulf' for modern audiences with all the heroism and heart of the original poem. If you didn’t like it in high school, give it a shot,” she said.
Denson went on to credit the writing team for their inclusion of a strong female voice.
“I just want to thank the writers for giving us the opportunity to showcase more female leads. There are only six of us in the cast, but I feel that all of them are really strong, and they represent the wide spectrum of femininity. Like how they have to feel more masculine to fit in. I think it has a lot of commentary that was not in the poem before. It gives the women agency, a voice and a story. It’s re-doing old work and bringing into light the invisible ones,” said Denson.
Kathleen Ritter played Wealtheow, Beowulf’s wife and queen of the Geats. She offered her stance on how this production tried to incorporate strong female characters.
“I know particularly me and Emma, who played Heigla, really worked hard with Cody to show the different types of women. In Act II, 20 years have passed, and Wiglaf is still trying to prove herself. She’s still the only female warrior. Even though things have changed there is still that tension between how feminine can I be, how much do I rely on men, how much do I have to fight against men to get to where I want to be,” Ritter said.
It took time for me to realize how prejudiced I was when I attended the opening night. The story of “Beowulf” was familiar to me as a boring assignment from high school, but my stance changed in the second act. Something within this production showed me how ridiculous my issues with the source material were. I am awestruck by how powerful the impact of this performance left me feeling.
Theatre MSU made something special with this production. “Beowulf” appeals to fans of epics, showcasing intense action and heartfelt drama. There is also a solid bit of comedy for good measure. Overall, it provides an entertaining evening that is guaranteed to be a highlight for audience members and MSU students to look back on.
The production will run on the McComas main-stage until the last performance on Nov. 24.