The outline of Grendel’s Mother visible in dim red light lies on the floor. She stands up realizing her surroundings and begins her seduction. In direct address, she tells the audience that she’s a monster forced to hurtle through time with her paramour and the murderer of her child, the warrior Beowulf. Between gulps of mead, she grieves for the loss of her son and her tragic sentence in song.
Red Theater’s latest production Beowulf: An Epic Quest of Music, Monsters and Mead stars a cast of two. Brenda Scott Wlazlo shines as Grendel’s Mother. From her opening monologue, we realize that this is mainly her story. The show’s themes are typical to feminist tales: powerlessness (in this case at the hands of the God Odin), maternal responsibility, and flawed romance. Pavi Proczko’s Beowulf is well acted and charming. The two actors share the stage and keep the audience laughing and engaged for the entirety of this one-act play. This really is a credit to the acting because though the script included some clever insights and banter, several compelling songs, and more than a few good jokes, it had significant flaws.
Playwright and director Aaron Sawyer essentially took two characters from classic literature and stuck them in a room together. Various aspects of the world building and story development seem left out, though the performance succeeded in being a lively, entertaining show. The concept is so incredibly wacky and ambitious that the plot-holes aren’t terribly surprising.
Monsters, mead and music are coupled with fully realized beastly fashion designed by Amber Kessler Freer and a creepy lair set by Janette Bauer. The characters seem hyper aware of their costumery and scenic surroundings, and the dialogue addressing this creates an intimacy with the audience.
The cleverness and whimsy of the show is encapsulated well in Proczko’s accordion playing. Proczko wrote most of the music along with Brindin Sawyer, who wrote Grendel’s Mother’s solo songs. Grendel’s Mother’s songs form the most compelling part of the show, centering on her role as a mother, the loss of her son, and the horrible and painful love triangle she’s a part of now as she’s haunted by the memory of her son and her love for his killer.
Red Theater is known for risk-taking, gutsy shows, and Beowulf follows the trend. It plays at the Den Theater, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., through March 11. For information regarding showings and ticket prices, visit the Red Theater website here.