Playwright: No adapter credited. At: Arcas Productions at Studio BE, 3110 N. Sheffield Ave. Tickets: www.studio-be.org; 773-248-5900; $20. Runs through: June 10
Director and choreographer Jeff Lynch espouses an interesting, even commendable, aesthetic with his still-new Arcas Productions (founded 2011), for which Beowulf is the most ambitious effort to date. If this production is not quite ready for prime timeand it's notthe sticking point may be that very aesthetic.
It's not stated anywhere in the program, but the various online info sources for Beowulf state that Arcas Productions was founded to use theater and movement to combat negative male body-image issues. You certainly see that commitment in action on stage, where the company of 10 men is in constant athletic motion in a 55-minute adaptation of the great Medieval Anglo-Saxon epic poem, in which a fictional Scandinavian warrior and king fights and defeats the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother and then a dragon.
Lynch's concept of "action-theater" is that text feeds movement, which in turn reflects text in both literal and abstract ways, and that any man who is reasonably dedicated can accomplish the physical tasks Lynch sets for him. Thus, the Nordic hero (the title character, Beowulf) is no Chris Hemsworth and the villain does not look like Jabba the Hutt or the James Bond baddie Jaws. Instead, the 10 are a reasonable cross-section of real men in their 20s to 40ssome a bit bearish and some a little thin. They whirl and leap and turn and strike combat poses, and collectively join forces to create the dragon with its long and fluid tail (one of the more successful moving images of the production), as well as individual characters, all the while sharing the narrative poetry of the saga.
All of this is well and good and successful in the conceptual sense. However, it's obvious that not all members of the cast are trained as actors or dancers or in stage movement, or at least not well-trained. Some are better than others, but some simply do not have the chops, especially when it comes to the spoken-word material. It's apparent that Lynch has invited a number of reasonably inexperienced players to the table. The result is a good workshop efforta studio effortbut not something up to the expected standard of Chicago off-Loop Theater or even the best off-off-Loop troupes.
If Lynch continues to work with this same group of men, yes, perhaps he can take them much further. Contrariwise, it would be interesting to see Lynch apply his performance ideas to well-trained actors, and to have the resources for a well-designed physical production. (Design elements are catch-as-catch-can.) However, that doesn't appear to be the goal he has charted for himself or Arcas Productions, so let's consider Beowulf a starting point and see where Lynch takes it.