When it is good, I love Chicago theatre, especially Chicago storefront theatre. Passionate artists working together to bring forth a vision or an experience that challenges, moves or surprises an audience. When everyone on the production team creates an adaptation of an old book or story or play, and through their changes, makes you see it in a different light. All of these things are true and come into play with Third Eye Ensemble’s new opera production of Beowulf. Normally what comes to mind with Beowulf is a Marvel Comics like superhero, brawny, brave, fighting the good fight for the less fortunate, but this production looks at heroic efforts in a different light for a different purpose. This Beowulf is an army medic who fights to keep people, especially children alive in a war environment for work, and struggles at home as the only son of a dying mother. From the first entrance into the cool Edge Off Broadway space, that this is going to be a different Beowulf is immediately seen through the set design (Sam Stephen) that has a “Mother Courage” like effect, with a mix of a personal and societal apocalypse debris that is accumulated and discarded. Director Rose Freeman does a great job with creating an evocative and intimate staging of both the war losses (the very first scene made me think of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine) and the home losses (from the everyday to the profound), as well as bringing out very committed and strong ensemble acting from the actors/singers. The three actors/singers, Noah Gartner, Mary Lutz Govertsen, Vincent McPherson, do both a wonderful job with their acting and their singing. The score, by composer Han Lash, is written for a four piece orchestra and the feel of it reminds me of Manuel Cinema’s and Redmoon Theatre’s musical accompaniment to their productions, is spot on, rising and falling with the action, the emotions and subtexts of this original opera. Personally, I enjoyed that the singing was all in English, as it made it even easier for me to take it all in. The 4 musicians (Richard Brasseale, Ash Fitzwater, Cally Laughlin, James Yakes) play perfectly and bring the moody score to life. The costume design by Delena Bradley is everything it needs to be to communicate the characters and their plights, and the lighting design by David Goodman-Edberg, is subtle and powerful, making this small space feel bigger and smaller as needed by the script’s actions. Shelby Krarup, the stage manager handles all the cues with aplomb to keep the show on track. Noah Gartner as Beowolf is wonderful and right sized as a regular sized human, rather than a superhuman, doing the heroic and difficult jobs of saving lifes, fighting for his mother’s life, and then letting his mother’s life go when it is time. His eyes are empathic and haunted. His Beowulf is compassionate and caring even as he goes through traumas at work and home. Mary Lutz-Govertsen is also wonderful as the mother going through medium to end stages of dementia (or alzhiemers) and faces the acting challenge of weaving between conscious and confused states while still staying on top of everything to sing the opera. Vicent McPherson plays the nurse, as well as a possible death like figure, and does a good job as a man also just trying to do his job and not get fired. That his character changes is more of a reflection of how the Mother in her different states sees him, and he does those changes well. It’s so heartening to see as the world is rebuilding following the global pandemic, all these people, all these artists, banding together and committing their artistic work for a storefront audience to see and experience this intense and remarkable adaptation of Beowulf, focusing on everyday love, loss, and heroism, but human sized not super sized.
Tickets can be purchased at www.thirdeyete.org. General admission tickets are $35, senior, student and industry tickets are $25, and tickets for veterans and healthcare workers are $20. For press inquiries or reservations, email Rena Ahmed at firstname.lastname@example.org.