Review: ‘Beowulf’ by We Players in collaboration with inkBoat and Rova (**1/2)

by Charles Kruger

The company of “Beowulf”, featuring members of We Players in collaboration with inkBoat Dance Company and the Rova Saxophone Quartet. Photo Credit: Lauren Matley.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

We Players collaboration with physical theatre and dance company inkBoat, along with the Rova Saxophone Quartet, results in some of the most extraordinary theatrical moments that the company has yet given us. The saxophone score is remarkable, and the dances are thrilling. The text explores themes of heroism, darkness, and humankind’s relation to the natural world. Overall, the experience is unusual and includes flashes of brilliance.

However, the many excellent pieces from which the work is assembled do not coalesce. As sometimes happens when a large number of artists work cooperatively, striving to include everybody’s vision while losing nothing in the process, the company’s earnestness comes across as taking itself far too seriously.

Thus, for example, what might have been a brief, and moving, dance sequence involving three grieving woman performing in a small canyon as the audience looks down from the rim becomes, through unnecessary repetition, a puzzling indulgence that overwhelms more than inspires.

Still, there are moving moments of audience participation, so typical of We Players’ aesthetic, as when audience members file past an empty boat, destined to be the last resting place of the dead hero. Each walker tosses a handful of sand into the vessel as mournful saxophones call to one another across large distances while the sun sets into the waters of the Pacific, silhouetting the outline of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Such moments are wonderful, but not enough to  rescue this piece, which ultimately seems over-indulgent to the point of boredom and, occasionally, unintended humor. Sequence after sequence, though well-performed, seem unconnected with one another, lacking narrative drive. The effect is like a too-long concert of random sounds, each of which might be fascinating, but because they are unconnected and presented without context seem little more than irritating noise.

The audience roams up and down hill through the Maritime National Historical Park to arrive at The Chapel in Fort Mason, but the vistas are not especially appealing, so the hike does not add value to the overall experience.

In spite of these failures, the music and choreography are often magnificent and audience members willing to let go of a desire for narrative entertainment and give themselves over to a meditative experience may find much to satisfy. But most won’t.

‘Bewulf’ continues at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and The Chapel at  Fort Mason through April 16, 2017. For further information, click here.

Rating: **1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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‘Beowulf’ created and performed by  We Players, Rova Saxophone Quarter, and inkBoat Physical Theatre and Dance Company. Co-Directors: Ava Roy, Shinichi Iova-Koga. Original Score by Charlie Gurke and Rova Saxophone Quartet. Costume Designer: Maria Chenut. Lighting Designer: Allen Willner. 

Performers:

Rova Saxophone Quarter: Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin, Steve Adams, Bruce Ackley. inkBoat: Shinichi Iova-Koga, Dana Iova-Koga. We Players: Ava Roy, Charlie Gurke, Nathaniel Justiniano.

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2 thoughts on “Review: ‘Beowulf’ by We Players in collaboration with inkBoat and Rova (**1/2)

  1. Not surprised – don’t know any “Beowulf” I’ve ever enjoyed. Especially Shotgun Players some years ago. Save me!

    1. Thanks for commenting on the review, Jane. In all fairness, I should note that at least one other reviewer liked this production very much and writes about it with considerable insight. Here’s a link to the review at the excellent blog, Theatre Eddys.

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