St. Olaf’s Deep End Student Theater production company put on three performances of “Beowulf” this past weekend. This adaption, translated by Seamus Heaney was adapted to the stage by Director Matthew Humason ’21.
“Beowulf” is an Old English epic poem narrating the story of Scandinavian hero Beowulf in his quest for glory and honor. Throughout the story, Beowulf battles Grendel, a monster descended from Cain, Grendel’s mother and a dragon, the fearsome guard of a horde of treasure in a cave.
The Deep End cast of “Beowulf” included Cait McCluskie ’20 as Beowulf, Meredith Enersen ’21 as Hrothgar/ensemble, Megan Allbrooks ’22 as Wiglaf/ensemble, Rachel Ropella ’20 as narrator/ensemble, Parker Love ’22 as Unferth/ensemble, Tamsin Olson ’21 as Watchman/ensemble and sound by Claire Correll ’21.
Humason’s adaptation employed simple costumes to portray the singularity of the hero, Beowulf. The small ensemble of actors were donned from head to toe in black clothing, their intricately braided hair reminiscent of the story’s setting in Scandinavia.
Beowulf, alone, stood out sporting a distinctive chain mail chest-piece. While most actors served as ensemble members, Beowulf remained the same character the entire time.
The play was performed without a set or props save for one table – the actors instead relied on each other to create convincing and intense scenes.
Actors contorted their bodies to form a winding path of trees, mimed exciting fight scenes with imaginary weapons and four actors moved in unison with glowing flashlight eyes to create the illusion of a gigantic dragon.
The soundtrack, designed by Rachel Ropella ’20, was carefully curated to intensify and add depth to the play. A constant backdrop of sound, including dramatic “adventure” music, sound effects and the beat of marching feet intensified the play and further created illusions of grandeur, all while employing only six actors with little costuming and few props.
The group also cleverly utilized flashlights to add excitement to the inevitable action scenes in the heroic tale. Dark blue lights illuminated Beowulf as he swam underwater to fight Grendel’s mother. A red glow accompanied by a fearsome roar served as dragon’s fire. Blinking white strobe lights heightened the drama of fight scenes.
Beowulf was played by Cait McCluskie ’20. McCluskie was the perfect choice to portray the boastful hero. “It was an intentional choice to cast Beowulf as a non-male person,” Humason said. “Beowulf is such a hypermasculine figure, and it is fascinating to juxtapose that to think about how women are cast in roles, and it’s something that hasn’t been done.”
In a text that seems to ignore women, casting a woman as Beowulf offered a fresh perspective on the tale.
The play was performed in Rolvaag Memorial Library room 525 with chairs surrounding three sides of a rectangular stage. Throughout the show, actors engaged with the audience, stalking the perimeter and directing spoken lines and pointed stares at audience members. The performance was an interactive and exciting experience for both the actors and the audience as the play sparked the audience to burst into animated applause at the conclusion.