"Titus Andronicus" leaves audiences blood spattered and shocked
The Bard. For many theater-goers, this name evokes images of delightful comedies of error and mistaken identity. We owe the cross dressing star-crossed lovers and half-assed actors (literally) to the guy. But thanks to the Shakespeare Theater's sanguine rendition of "Titus Andronicus," Shakespeare's bloody Roman vengeance plot, audiences will now surely associate The Bard with severed limbs pie and deathly circles of revenge.
The adaptation is a modernized, if not entirely stylized, look at the classic story of revenge and consequences. Director Gale Edwards takes liberties with the costumes (leather chaps anyone?) and the set (a stoic deco look), but remains true to the ideals that made the play so popular in its initial runs. The play itself is thoroughly disturbing and at times too forceful in its grotesque displays, but is strangely satisfying in the end, when all the vengeance is wrought and re-wrought.
"Titus" is a play about retribution and honor, sacred Roman principles. It opens as the eponymous protagonist (Sam Tsoutsouvas), a revered Roman general, returns from battle with the Goths, having taken their Queen Tamura (Valeria Leonard) and her sons hostage. After mourning the death of 21 of his 25 sons in the conflict, Titus decrees that by Roman law, Tamura's eldest son must be hewn apart and burned, and despite her queenly begging, does so in order to restore his family's honor. From there, Tamura's unrelenting need for revenge and the greed and unchecked licentiousness of her surviving sons and kinsmen lead to an ever escalating contest of bloody revenge between Titus' family and her newly found royal one. Dismembering, rape and savagery abound in monstrous abandon throughout the play.
As Titus, Tsoutsouvas commands a compelling presence on the stage. His character's mental degradation over the course of the play is plainly exhibited by the veteran actor in fits of mad laughter, screams of agony and a clear and lucid speech that hushes the audience. Leonard is not left far behind in charisma as the Goth queen, though her character relies as much on body language and eyebrow raising dress as power of voice. Tamura's sons, Demetrius and Chiron, played by Ryan Farley and David Townsend, are another set of colorful characters, as shocking in their onstage conduct as their dress.
The set management is excellent. Black coffins bearing Titus' dead sons line the stage in the beginning. But as the scene switches, the chests of the dead are quickly re-arranged to form two podiums from which Roman politicians try to woo the Roman proletarians. The forest scenes are equally as simple and yet versatile, with rolling platforms bearing evil looking bars, resembling the wicked trees that constantly move around. Modern quirks are evident everywhere as well, such as a winch that, with a mechanical whine, descends from the ceiling and lifts a dead body from a fall-away panel on the ground. An ever-present crew member to quickly wipe the copious amounts of blood off the stage.
"Titus" is not a production for those with a weak constitution or those who may suffer from bouts of sickness at the sight of blood, severed limbs or acts of inhuman cruelty. Those seated in the first row should wear rain jackets to ward off the splatters of blood that occur onstage and have a tendency to pool in the general direction of the audience.
In essence, this is not the play to which to take your sweet granny. While the extreme violence detracts from the overall effectiveness of this tragedy, it is bloody good.
Titus Andronicus is being presented by the Shakespeare Theater Company through May 20. Tickets can be bought online or at the theater and range from $31 to $63, depending on placment. No children under five years are allowed into the theater for this play.
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