Titus Andronicus is a perfect entertainment for closing out the Halloween season. There is blood and gore galore, but Bare Theatre has managed to keep the graphical part of gore to a minimum. Titus Andronicus is considered to be the Bard’s least performed play. Originally, it was very popular, written, some say, to join the ranks of the similarly bloody revenge plays of Shakespeare’s contemporaries of the 1500s.
One wonders if the “Lamentable” of its original title (The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus), might have been a bit tongue in cheek, because the play’s plot resemble the kinds of plots found in today’s throat-slashing spectaculars. What sets this production apart is that all the roles are played by females as females. Some of the actresses might, thereby, appear to become lesbians; but no such implication is intended.
In this world of the imagination, children are born; and it somehow feels perfectly natural that two females created them in an act of love. The overburdening violence perpetrated by women also provides ample ground for discussion, since women are usually considered the gentler half of the species. In this world, they are both, so don’t be alarmed that our pronouns are feminine.
The story line is complicated — what else is new? — it’s Shakespeare. Titus is a conquering hero returning to Rome, where her competitive daughters are vying for the role of Emperor of Rome. They greet the audience as they come in with campaign speeches and literature.
Titus brings with him prisoners from the wars, who are mingled into Roman society and immediately begin to work treachery. The fact is, for all the savagery, murderousness, and mayhem, the play is very funny in its horror; and the performers seem to love it.
Director Heather J. Strickland choreographs subtle and vicious fighting that is both heart-stopping and humorous. Apropos some of the intention of this production, which is focused on the roles of women in theater, over the past 10 or more years, Chuck has noticed more and more fight choreographers have been women. They often outshine their male counterparts, bringing more creativity to the work.
Strickland’s direction is smart, snappy, and smooth flowing. The play also lasts for a little less than three hours, and there is never a moment’s lag.
The set consists of four fully moveable three-faced columns, with a different texture on each side, mirrors, fabric, and wooden planking. Designed by Elizabeth Newton, they are efficient and easy to transform from scene to scene. Colorful, eclectic modern costumes, created by Katie Moorhead, also enhance the sense of the timeliness of the story. Also the clothing changes were surprisingly quick, as well.
Rebecca Blum excels as Titus Andronicus, the priggish military general who is driven to insanity by the lunacy of the political world. The point at which she finally loses it is carefully and precisely executed.
Leslie Castro, as Lavinia, the tortured victim of Aaron, breaks our hearts with her innocence and sweetness which is despoiled so horrendously. Aneisha Montague plays Aaron the Moor with a ferocity that makes us cringe, although she often shouts to display strong emotions, which, in fact, has the opposite effect. Very strong emotions are best presented as hard to control and tightly restrained, rather than with hollering.
Sarah Lynn Winter also gives a fine performance as Saturninus, but it is weakened by resorting to shouting when less volume would have served he better. Maegan Mercer-Bourne as Tamora, the captured Queen of the Goths, is stately and cunning; and Titus’s sister Marcus Andronicus, who is a large political power in this Rome, is played by Kacey Reynolds Schedler with strength and eloquence.
The effect of this nontraditional casting is a powerful reminder that actors act, and their personal gender or racial attributes are not necessarily a part of their performance repertoire. Kudos to Heather Strickland, for having that foresight and imagination, and to the actors who could cross sexual lines so convincingly. We had never seen this play before, but we will never see it again without the influence of this all-female cast.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article43463889.html; and Nov. 4th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/titus-andronicus/Event?oid=4862738.
Bare Theatre presents TITUS ANDRONICUS at 8 p.m. Nov. 12-14 and 19-21 in Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.
TICKETS: $19.62 including fees ($11.34 students and $16.52 seniors, and active-duty military personnel, including fees).
BOX OFFICE: 919-322-8819 or http://allfemaletitus.bpt.me/.
SHOW: http://baretheatre.org/titus-andronicus-2015-2/, https://www.facebook.com/events/1609102319364486/, and http://cgtheatre.com/events.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://d2pq0u4uni88oo.cloudfront.net/projects/2116299/video-593646-h264_high.mp4.
PRESENTER: http://baretheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/BareTheatre, https://twitter.com/baretheatre, and https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBareTheatre.
VENUE: http://www.cgtheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/cgtheatre, and https://twitter.com/CGTheatre919.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: On its website, Bare Theatre writes, “This production contains graphic stage violence, including blood effects and disturbing imagery. Not recommended for young children, parental discretion advised. Strobe light effect is also used.”
NOTE: There will be a postshow discussion on Friday, Nov. 20th, with Clare Counihan of the Carolina Women’s Center, and Titus Andronicus director Heather J. Strickland: and assistant director Beverly Schieman.
The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus (c. 1588-93 tragedy): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titus_Andronicus (Wikipedia).
The Script (e-text): http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/plays/Tit.html (Internet Shakespeare Editions, compiled by the University of Victoria, BC, Canada).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/titus-andronicus-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Heather J. Strickland (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=570185297 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.