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Bare Theatre’s Titus Andronicus at Common Ground Theatre in Durham Is Shakespeare with a Twist

Rebecca Blum (center) stars as illustrious Roman general Titus Andronicus (photo by Yorgason Photography)

Rebecca Blum (center) stars as illustrious Roman general Titus Andronicus (photo by Yorgason Photography)

In true-to-form Bare Theatre style, this all-female production of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus begins with a bang! The preshow curtain speech has aspects of a “pep talk,” and Friday night’s audience responded enthusiastically.

Then Saturninus and Bassianus burst into to theater, campaigning for the office of Emperor. They shake hands with audience members, give them stickers, and make campaign promises. With the excitement level thus raised, the action of the play begins; and multiple conflicts arise immediately.

Roman general Titus Andronicus has defeated the Goths and returned to Rome triumphant with Queen Tamora in tow. The suggestion is raised that Titus should be elected Emperor; however, Titus declines and endorses Saturninus. Saturninus wants to marry Titus’ daughter Lavinia, who chooses to marry Bassianus. Titus orders the execution/sacrifice of one of Tamora’s daughters.

And newly crowned Emperor Saturninus frees Titus’s Goth prisoners and marries Tamora, thereby setting up the queen of Rome’s newly conquered enemy as Empress of Rome.

In short, everyone has a reason to hold a grudge against somebody.

Tamora conspires with her daughters Chiron and Demetrius to rape Lavinia and cut off her hands and her tongue. Tamora’s servant/lover Aaron the Moor gets involved and increases the level of barbarity.

Director Heather J. Strickland has chosen to present the play with an all-female cast, thereby adding extra dimensions to the show, for actors and audience alike. Those of us familiar with the script need a little bit of “double-think” in the first few scenes to grow accustomed to this choice, but it works nicely.

Sarah Lynn Winter (as Saturninus) is a charismatic campaigner in the preshow and exudes quite a level of haughtiness throughout the play. Leigha Vilen’s Bassanius is obviously the more honorable of the two politicians.

Rebecca Blum’s Titus acts and reacts as expected to the tidal wave of betrayals that she must endure, struggling to retain her faith and dignity. Maegan Mercer-Bourne’s Tamora is a formidable foe; the “mad scene” that includes her and Katie Barrett and Hannah Murphy as Chiron and Demetrius confronting Titus is easily the most fun scene in this production.

The costumes and masks augment it nicely. Leslie Castro gives us a sweet and then defeated Lavinia that easily earns our sympathy and our pity. Aaron (Aneisha Montague) is evil, conniving, deceitful, treacherous….

Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare’s first tragedy, and it is easily the bloodiest. Writing in the shadow of “the greats,” Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd, he was pulling out all the stops. The action includes severed limbs, deaths, rape, and cannibalism. The original performances probably involved the use of actual blood — spilling and spurting on stage (pig’s blood, but real blood nonetheless). Heather Strickland’s staging gives just enough of the gore to create the necessary intensity without pushing the limits of good taste.

This script is not one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, but it is well worth seeing at least once, and opportunities do not arise often. Be prepared to be forgiving now and then when Shakespeare’s dialogue is a bit tedious. Keep in mind that he was not a “master” yet.

The Department of Picky-Picky insists that we mention that now and then it is hard to hear and/or understand some of the speeches. However, we never miss much. Bare Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus deserves to be commended and recommended for a variety of reasons.

SECOND OPINION: Nov. 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks:; and Nov. 4th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 9th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click

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

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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): (Wikipedia).

The Script (e-text): (Internet Shakespeare Editions, compiled by the University of Victoria, BC, Canada).

Study Guide: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): (Wikipedia).

Heather J. Strickland (Raleigh, NC director): (Facebook page).


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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews