The other major part of yesterday was a farewell dinner and Beowulf reading for a Young Canadian Soldier. He's off to join the navy (which got around to accepting him only ten months after he applied...), for basic training, so it'll be a fair many months before he comes back for a brief visit. (Good luck! Have fun!)
We (my erstwhile gaming group) went to an impressively cheap and reasonably good Japanese (not sushi) restaurant on Yonge, north of College, called Tokyo Grill, before heading off to the Beowulf reading. No, reading is the wrong word. The Beowulf performance.
Chris Vinsonhaler, poet and performer, has spent the last seven years reworking and performing Beowulf. Her modern English adaptation is wonderfully clear and communicative, aiming for the meaning of the poem above the word play. The word play doesn't show in the words on paper, but they come through with great clarity in her performance. Her setting and interpretation of the poem is contentious - not wrong per se, but certainly debatable. She argues the probability of the poem being written and performed in the Christian court of King Alfred, after the conversion of the pagan invader Guthrum.
Her performance begins in Alfred's hall, moving through a scattering of modern analogies (Heorot at the Titanic, for example), before coming to the meat of the matter, the two highlights of the poem she performed, since doing the entire thing would take twelve nights. Her lighting was dramatic, a single floor-level spot meant to emulate a campfire. Her 22-string Celtic harp playing was minimal, enough to evoke the odd mood, and stand in lieu of a harper figure. The performance was engrossing, by and large. She's a consummate performer. Her emphases was narrow and dense: she brought out the nuance to every half-sentence, the ironies, the background, and brought her own wordplay to the performance (although it was sometimes rather labored).
I'm glad I went. It's rare to see such a talented performer, even if it was aimed at a more general audience that this one was. We were mostly medievalists. Her performance was designed to be accessible to anyone, which is usually a real merit. In this case, it meant that a few people went away grumbling about her lack of reference to particular scholarship. I was frequently distracted by words and modern references which evoked other songs or tales in my head, but most of the time I found her performance absorbing. I was also glad that I've never formally studied Beowulf, so my head was blissfully free of much in the way of competing interpretations and scholarly claims. I wasn't always convinced, but she certainly did perform well.
Did you know that the T.V. dinner is now fifty years ago? Like so many pieces of food trivia I've read lately, this one comes from fs_appetizers (Better known as Food Section - Appetizers).