Titus Andronicus is not a play for our intellects—you feel it in your stomach and you may remember it longer, after a performance, than any other of Shakespeare’s plays. Director Ross Williams—his staging of the work is now playing at Here until February 8—tells us that this raw, red, torn tragedy is pertinent for today and, in doing this, he is agreeing with Julie Taymor, who directed the play in 1994 at Theater for the New City in New York and filmed it in 1999, starring Anthony Hopkins. Whether the assessment rings true for us may depend on how impervious we are to media news cycles: in one week, we’ve heard that ISIS has burned a pilot and a draft of an arrest warrant has been found for Argentine President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, at a dead prosecutor’s home. Even Charles Manson has come back to haunt us with a marriage license that is running out. If we ever look behind today’s speeding, ever-changing Web, what we find may be even more shocking than Shakespeare’s savagery.
When British critic Kenneth Tynan called Titus Andronicus a “carnival of carnage”—he was reviewing Peter Brook’s landmark English production of 1955, which starred Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. His minimal, stylized version allowed a renewed reconsideration–for three hundred years, until 1923, Titus Andronicus, was found too horrific to produce. In his new production, mercifully nearly devoid of stage blood, Williams has arrived at the same metaphor but in an American context: he actually places the play in a carnival (with dark red and tan setting by Jason Lajka). The story is a revenge fantasy with master players, including the hardened and punished Titus (Brendan Averett), whose sorrows rival Odysseus, and the cunning Queen of the Goths (Gretchen Egolf). Many will recall the horrors their offspring endure; fortunately, Williams does not play it as parody, and we can feel Shakespeare’s dark pain, in much the way that we do Sarah Kane’s in Blasted.
Titus Andronicus is not only a reflection of today, however. This first tragedy is also prescient for what Shakespeare’s plays would become. Among the works you’ll see in it are King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, The Winter’s Tale, and Much Ado About Nothing. You’ll agree with the poet’s choices or not, but you’ll not disagree that to understand Shakespeare (it is thought that George Peele was a co-dramatist), you must see this, even if you only decide that one viewing is enough.
The cast, from New York Shakespeare Exchange, is young, able, and serious. Especially impressive is Warren Jackson as Aaron the Moor, perhaps the first role for a black actor in the Western Canon. For all the shock of this play, which includes dramatic depictions of the kind of gruesome violence we read about in fairy tales and ancient legends—many stumble believing that the story can be rationalized realistically–it is interesting to note that from its first productions in the late 1500s, Titus Andronicus has been popular and made money. Whether Shakespeare–who moves the work swiftly to its final dead body count–has exposed something crucial in man’s barbarity to man (which does take time to reflect on and integrate)—or whether he merely knew that audiences, like Romans at the Coliseum–were attracted to violence, his work continues to draw crowds. On Super Bowl Sunday, for example, when this reviewer saw the play, with a snowstorm on the way, the theater was, unsurprisingly, full.
(c) 2015 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Visit Here: http://www.here.org/shows/detail/1576/
Photo: Kate Lydic in TITUS ANDRONICUS at HERE, produced by the New York Shakespeare Exchange. Credit: Kalle Westerling.
Brendan Averett* as Titus Andronicus
Nathaniel P. Claridad* as Demetrius
Gretchen Egolf* as Tamora
Vince Gatton* as Saturninus
Sean Hinckle as Young Lucius
Ethan Itzkow as Chiron
Kerry Kastin* as The Clown
Adam Kezele as Bassianus
Warren Jackson* as Aaron, the Moor
Kate Lydic as Lavinia
Joseph Mitchell Parks* as Lucius
Terence MacSweeny* as Marcus
Cody Leroy Wilson as Quintus
*member Actors' Equity Association | Equity Showcase Code
Director – Ross Williams
Scenic Design – Jason Lajka
Lighting Design – Drew Florida
Costume Design – Elivia Bovenzi
Props Design – Cassie Dorland
Sound Design – Jack Cummins
Dramaturg – Shane Breaux
Fight Choreographer – Alicia Rodis
Assistant Director – Cristina Lundy
Stage Manager – Jack Cummins
Technical Director – Joshua Shain
Producer – Ross Williams
Associate Producers – Michele Clarke-Ceres; Timothy S. Jones II
Press: Karen Greco