Review by Eve Speer Garcia
New World Shakespeare Company presents Titus Andronicus just in time for Halloween! The show is directed by Blayne Wiley and Elise C. Hanson. Most people are unfamiliar with this particular Shakespearean tragedy. The boys in the Shakespeare Abridged Comedy refer to it simply by staging a brief cooking show. The cooking show is the perfect horrific climax to a list of horrors that only the Romans could inflict on one another. Well, Romans and Goths. This is Shakespeare dirty, violent, and crazy with a capital K.
The show takes place in the comfortable Sorenson Unity Center Black Box Theater, located at 1383 South 900 West. The space is open with comfortable seats on risers for the audience. It is small and intimate, creating a lovely viewing experience for the audience.
The story is Revenge Gone Wild. It’s revenge on this epic scale. I kill your family member, you kill mine, back and forth. Prepare yourself for a ride.
There are four factions. First, you have the clad in black Romans. These are the soldiers who follow the rules. They embrace the power of Rome’s might and they march forward, without mercy.
The second faction are the Goths. The Goths are wild and untame in contrast to the Romans. They are colorful and crazy. At the beginning, we see the Goths chained and in submission to the might and the rite/right of the Romans.
The third faction is Saturninus’ Rome. He is the eldest son of the emperor–but not the people’s favorite for Rome. The people prefer Titus! Titus is not a ruler though. He is a soldier. He turns down the people’s request, endorses the ambitious Saturninus (played incredibly well by Christian Maestas) and hands his daughter Lavinia (Allison Dayne) off to the new emperor, as a good soldier should.
Lavinia wants nothing to do with Saturninus and leaves him for another man. The other man is Saturninus’ brother, Bassianus (Ava Kostia). The people are not happy with Titus, and they support Lavinia and Bassianus and help her escape. Chaos ensues.
Tamora, Queen of the Goths, played with aplomb by Elise C. Hanson, jumps on this opportunity to salvage the new emperor’s pride and seduces him into marrying her. The two seem a perfect pair and she readies herself for her revenge on Titus.
The fourth faction is the lone Moor, Aaron. Aaron is one of the most complicated characters in all of Shakespeare. Think Iago, only instead of fooling Othello–he’s fooling the audience. He takes the audience on a trip. While Tamora is seducing Saturninus, Aaron is seducing you. While Tamora is betraying Saturninus, Aaron is betraying you. Or is he? That’s why it’s complicated! E. Cooper Jr.’s Aaron was okay. It just didn’t quite wrap itself up in the complexity of this character. Aaron is subtle. Cooper’s performance was impassioned, when I would have preferred more cerebral choices. I am excited to see his choices grow as the run progresses though. I think he was as surprised by Aaron’s choices as I was–and so he missed the calculation.
The words of the play allude to Aaron and Tamora’s affair, and the company chose to stage their lovemaking right smack in the middle of the play. It didn’t work for me. I tried to make it work, but I was thinking more about the choice, and less about the story. Maybe it was the timing. I just needed the action to continue and it seemed to stall the action.
Each bit of action seemed to rise into a long pause where music played, set pieces were moved around, and actors came back in with different costumes. The technical changes helped me to follow the story, but it kept me from falling into the rabbit hole of action. I was pulled out of the story and the action in a kind of self aware Brechtian way.
Dustin Kennedy’s set was impressively simple. Wiley’s costumes were impressively simple and told the story. David Bruner’s lighting needed some tweaks last night, but it was a preview night. I found some of the scenes were lit very low, lending a nice mystery, but it was difficult to see faces some of the time. The severed heads were absolutely genius, but some of the other props looked like toys. I wasn’t sure if that was a choice or not.
Titus Andronicus, played by Jon Turner, was too intellectual for me. Turner played Andronicus as a statesman, rather than a soldier. It made the choices seem foolhardy instead of passionately naive. Titus is a man who is great on the battlefield and horrible at home. He is a distant legend, impressive in stories that come back to the city from the war. At home in Rome, his strategies and decisions are rash, impolitical, and they cost him his pride and his family. Turner’s performance didn’t help me to understand Titus’s dilemma. And yet, the end was incredibly satisfying. Sitting at dinner with stumpy err Lavinia, while they ate was almost hysterical. Titus embraces the madness and the audience just kind of jumps along for the horror ride. Turner’s Titus at the end was worth the wait. I just wish I had seen more of the passionate soldier at the beginning. Notes of Polonius were clinging to Titus. Marcus, played with grace by Allison Froh, is a stately foil for her brother’s recklessness.
The raping pillagers Demetrius and Chiron (played by Hannah Schweinfurth and Kaltin Kirby) were spot on. Their energy and choices were chaotic and animalistic. I was intrigued every time they came on stage. Contrast the monstrous brothers with Titus’s sweet sons. The boys were uniformly good and we were relieved to cheer for someone not deranged when Lucius (Paul Chaus) returned to Rome from the Goths.
The story is complicated and messy. Shakespeare asks us to analyze what rites and rituals are most crazy. Why is it right on the battlefield, but wrong at home? Why is it wrong to rape, but okay to murder? He questions the accepted societal and political norms of Rome. Set in modern dress, I questioned why some actresses had their shirts off in an almost sexy humiliation at their death, while other men were fully clothed, facing the same judgment. Why are some victims more pitied than others? The play forces audiences to question so much about the consequences of manipulating our values based on time, place, sex, and race. And it’s a fun Halloweeny romp!
Not recommended for kids because of blood, sex, and gore.
For tickets and more information, visit http://www.newworldshakespeare.com/.