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Review: Actors’ Theatre Kicks Off Season With Witty ‘Beowulf (And The Bard)’

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Review: Actors’ Theatre Kicks Off Season With Witty ‘Beowulf (And The Bard)’Left to right: Christina Yoho (The Bard), David Harewood (Villager), John Quigley (Beowulf), and Scott Clay (King Hrothgar) in the Actors' Theatre of Columbus production of Beowulf (and the Bard). All photos by Jenna Messer.
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Actors’ Theatre opens their 2019 season at MadLab with a world premier of the fast, funny, and family-friendly Beowulf (And the Bard), written by Vidas Barzdukas and Christopher Bartlett’s and directed by Philip J. Hickman.

Beowulf (and The Bard) recasts the classic English epic poem as a goofball buddy comedy. A long-suffering bard (Christina Yoho) spins exaggerated tales of the heroism of lovable screw-up Beowulf (John Quiqley) for room and board (including mead). This gets them into trouble when they hit Denmark, where king of the Danes Hrothgar’s (Scott Clay) gentrification plan has run afoul of the swamp home of ogre Grendel and his mother (both played by Trad).

Beowulf manages to defeat Grendel and aligns with Hrothgar’s frustrated warrior-princess daughter Gunborg (Sarah Vargo). Vargo’s Gunborg is an unvarnished delight, crackling in her scenes with her tutor Aeschere (Kate Jones) and the triangle between she, Beowulf, and Danish noble Unferth (Jobari Johnson).

Clay’s Hrothgar balances the exaggerated blowhard of the king with razor-sharp comedic timing and a knowing wink, as does Yoho’s bohemian flip of that self-important coin. The framing sequences in the pub feel a little long and try a little hard. At one point the conversation between three people is the lyrics to “Tainted Love,” but they help underscore the theme that we’re all heroes of our own story, and those stories shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Hickman directs this material with the light touch it needs and keeps it moving at a fast clip. This is aided by terrific fight choreography from Sarah Vargo and movement coaching from Beth Josephsen on an effective, minimal set designed by Andrew Weibel. There aren’t a lot of surprises in Beowful (And the Bard) but it makes the most of all its charms. Every gear of this well-tuned machine clicks into place in very satisfying ways.

Beowulf (And The Bard) runs through April 20 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit columbusmakesart.com/event/26187-actors-theatre-presents-beowulf-and-the-bard.

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