Beowulf: The Blockbuster

bryan burroughs

This week will be your last chance to catch the two plays that traveled together from the Dublin Fringe to the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan for a limited run.

When I first heard that the IAC’s latest offering, the play Swing, was paired in a double bill with another play called Beowulf, my immediate reaction was “Hmmm, really??”  I just wasn’t that thrilled at the prospect of a theatrical version of the Old English epic poem I was prodded through in high school, which I found unfathomable and planned never to return to after graduation (though the Seamus Heaney version is there in the book case, waiting for its turn).

I even thought of ducking out during the intermission after Swing and heading off.  But then I thought “Look, you’ve bought the ticket, it’s gone the whole Fishamble/Dublin Fringe route, give it a go!”  (And yes, by now, I’d also realized that the full title of the play is “Beowulf: The Blockbuster.”)

Well, I am so happy that I stayed.

Bryan Burroughs bounds onto the stage, wearing just a long-sleeved black t-shirt and trousers, and his backdrop is a large black square, which is in turn bordered by a thick tube of light that changes color during the performance.  With nothing more than his body, his voice, his skills and no more accompaniment than the spare staging and audio, he proceeds to tell us two tales.  Here, Beowulf is the story within the main story, that of three generations of a family, one of whom is a soon-to-born fetus.  (Burroughs is also the author of the play, which was directed by David Horan.)

The two people at the heart of Beowulf: The Blockbuster are a father and his nine-year-old son.  (The Mum who would complete the trio has died years before.)  The son is small and has withstood so much mistreatment from the kids at school that he’s learned to let on to his father that it doesn’t bother him, so as not to cause more worry.  As with many fathers and sons, these two have shared hours in darkened theaters watching action adventure series like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and so on.  The father is a builder by profession, but for his son, he is also a great storyteller.

After a long hospitalization for an illness, the father returns home and tries to win over the understandably churlish boy with an epic adventure story bar none – the aforementioned Beowulf – playing several roles and drawing widely on film references (e.g. Sean Connery as Bond, and the rest of the Comic Con canon).

Bryan Burroughs brings a fluid and lively physicality to the roles; at times he’d remind you of those inflatable figures you see waving in the wind outside a car dealerships, and its these strengths he draws on in particular during the father’s account of Beowulf.  But where his most precious talents come to the fore are those moments playing parent and child, at the most intense moments of the night.

I came in expecting a retelling of the tale of Grendel and the mother and Beowulf, but I never expected such a deeply moving father-son story within the hour of the play, and all it had to say about parental love, and legacy, and remembrance.

Beowulf: The Blockbuster and Swing pick up sticks and move on after Sunday, May 18th, so you’ve only got this week to catch this winning double bill.  It would be a shame to miss them.


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