The Catamounts Presents “Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage”
Gabrielle DeCristofaro • February 25, 2017 • Art •
The Boulder-based theater group, The Catamounts, presents the regional premiere of “Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage” written by Jason Craig of Banana Bag & Bodice with music by David Malloy, and directed by Meridith C. Grundei. The regional presentation is performed in The Dairy Arts Center’s recently renovated Carsen Theatre. For this musical, the highly versatile space has been rendered almost unrecognizable, as it has been completely transformed into a Scandinavian mead hall. Upon walking in, theater-goers are allowed to choose a table to sit at, but be warned, the fourth-wall is broken, and some of the tables are involved in the action more than others, so hold onto your drinks if that happens!
When asked about the Carsen Theater and its ability to suit the needs of each play, Producer McPherson Horle said, “One of the things we (The Catamounts) love about being residents of the Carsen Theater is that it allows us to operate under a different vision every time… It’s lovely that we have such an accessible, versatile space to work with.“
And this was certainly true of this play. The story of the epic poem “Beowulf” is told by three frizzy-haired contemporary academics sitting at a table, perhaps mulling over the “1000 years of baggage” as the centuries of academia dedicated to studying “Beowulf.” Each of these academics doubles as the antagonists Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. They drop us into both the 8th and 21st centuries while narrating the story: Grendel, a monster living at the bottom of a lake, has been wreaking havoc and terrorizing Hrothgar’s kingdom for 14 years, when Beowulf comes from Geatland to save the Danes.
As always, The Catamounts have made excellent casting choices. Beowulf is played by Joe Von Bokern, who is an unexpected epic hero, as he is not particularly brave, and is styled like the lead singer of a classic rock cover band. Which kind of works, as there is a full band on stage accompanying the gypsy-punk musical. Gary Grundel as Hrothgar is wheeled around on a wheelchair covered in animal hides as he plays the accordion, and Ben Hilzer as Grendel, wears what looks like football gear, also covered in animal hides, as he circles and talks smack to Beowulf. Joan Bruemmer-Holden is dominating as Grendel’s mother. And Kate Moore is both a calculating academic, and in a final-scene showdown, an aptly cast dragon with a beautiful singing voice.
At The Dairy, between BETC’s “An Iliad” and The Catamounts “Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage” we have coincidentally seen two epic poems reimagined for modernity. While neither of the stories’ plots have been changed to suit the needs of our times, some of the language used in the scripts takes them out of the times they were written and into the 21st century.
Regarding language Horle states, “What appealed to The Catamounts about this particular show was that we love language, and if you come and see a Catamounts show you’ll notice that that’s kind of a signature thing. This play is ripe with wonderful language and a wonderful story. And that’s really what drives our desire towards work like this.”
Themes of war, masculinity, revenge and destiny are rendered for exploration, but the hilarious script, from the faux-seriousness of portions of the action and dialogue, to AJ Griffin’s review of “Beowulf” (which you really should read), makes them more digestible.
When asked about the decision to have this play performed at The Dairy, Director Meridith C. Grundei explains, “I worked with Jason Craig, the playwright, in San Francisco. We were cast in a children’s theater piece together, so I’ve been in touch with them…. I’ve always really respected Jason and Dave Malloy and the work they do…. It’s very much a Catamount aesthetic.”
The play runs from Feb. 25 until March 18, and at the final showing, playwright Jason Craig will be in attendance for a meet and greet after the performance. So if you are looking for a highly original and genuinely humorous theater experience that you can truly immerse yourself in, “Beowulf, A Thousand Years of Baggage” certainly meets those requirements.