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Titus Androniucs

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 3426

SHOWING : July 09, 2009 - August 02, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Shakespeare’s most outrageous, and rarely performed, play, Titus Andronicus is the epic story of a Roman general who returns home in triumph with a perilous war trophy - Goth Queen Tamora - which sets in motion a vicious cycle of revenge and retribution.

This play contains strong adult subject matter. It is not recommended for anyone under 16.


CAST & CREW LIST
Quintus/Clown/Caius Chris Ensweiler
Martius/Publius Max Flick
Aaron the Moor Neal A Ghant
Titus Andronicus Chris Kayser
Bassianus/Aemelius/Messenger Mark Kincaid
Tamora Tess Malis Kincaid
Lucius Daniel May
Marcus Andronicus Tim McDonough
Nurse Megan McFarland
Alarbus/Senator/Archer/Goth 1 Courtney Patterson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

See it while you still can!
by hardlybrantley
Friday, July 31, 2009
4.5
It's hard to believe that this is the same cast and theatre company that produced this summer's "Midsummer Night's Dream" which, for me at least, really only came to life during the last fifteen minutes or so. In contrast, this production of "Titus" grabs hold of your throat from the beginning and never lets go.

Yes, the play is violent. But the violence is beautifully handled. The scene in which Titus captures and kills the two sons of Tamora, queen of the Goths, is suspenseful and gruesome but never feels hokey. And often the production finds the real pain and the suffering behind the killings: Tamora's cries during the first scene as Titus and his sons discuss the brutal ritual sacrifice that will be practiced on her eldest son brings home her justification for the revenge that drives the play's plot in ways that simply reading the play never could.

The grand, Olivier-style voices of a few of the leads--particularly Tess Kincaid as a regal Tamora and Tim McDonough as Marcus--are well suited to a play in which all characters are larger than life. And yet in a surprising contrast, with his conversational delivery to the audience Neal Ghant turned Aaron the Moor, who just might be Shakespeare's most unnaturally evil villain, into the most human and engaging character in the production.

Throughout the first act Chris Kayser as Titus felt a little too stiff and passive for me, but once the character's feigned(?) madness kicked in, his performance was riveting. The scene I mentioned before, when he reveals to Chiron and Demetrius his plan to transform them into their mother's dinner, had me on the edge of my balcony seat.

The details that made this less than a five star review are minor ones. The eclectic costume design often seemed random simply for the sake of being random. The bowls of ritual blood which played a part in many of the killings, while a neat idea, at times seemed used simply for the sake of being used. And some of the actors (particularly Sarah Johnson as Lavinia and Michael Cohen as Chiron) delivered Shakespeare in a painfully clunky way when compared with actors like Kincaid and Kayser.

Overall, though, this is a must-see production. There's one more chance to see it: if you can, take it. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Recipe for Revenge
by Dedalus
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
4.5
“Titus Andronicus” was Shakespeare’s most popular play during his lifetime. It’s easy to see why. Filled with cataclysmic violence and mayhem, it is also filled with moments of self-righteous revenge, simple-at-first-glance characterizations, moments of clownish black humor, and even occasional flights of poetic fancy, even if they pale when compared to the Bard’s best works. All-in-all, it was a perfect afternoon’s entertainment, especially when you can take your flagon of mead next door to the bear-baiting pits afterwards.

And yet, in modern times, the “Titus Andronicus” star had faded a bit, tarnished, ironically, by the more mature Shakespearean canon that was to follow. The story line is simplicity itself – imprisoned Goth Queen takes vengeance on the General responsible for her son’s death, then General takes vengeance for her vengeance. No matters of philosophical import, no bravura complexity of character, no nuance or irony. These are larger-than-death, almost inhuman characters in the tradition of the larger-than-life tragic heroes of the ancient world.

Still, watching Georgia Shakespeare’s new production, I couldn’t help but be struck by how, well, with how Shakespearean it all is. Goth queen Tamora (often described, with some justification, as a character who makes Lady Macbeth seem like a Girl Scout) is wickedly vicious to the core. Yet the script still paints her with human tones – her actions are born out of the rage of a defeated monarch, the grief of a sorrowing mother. Her actions are coldly horrible, yet the young Shakespeare makes them coldly understandable. Aaron the Moor is from the “Appearance-Defines-Character” school of Elizabethan dramaturgy – he is dark of face, so, by definition, he is dark of character.** And yet, the appearance on the scene of a newborn son awakens in him an empathy that cannot possible extend to the Strangers in the Strange Land he finds himself. And Titus himself, long before Hamlet pondered mortality and madness, feigns insanity in the service of his own revenge plot. He knows and acknowledges his lesser place in the Medieval “Chain of Being,” and even violently defends his own place in that chain. Yet, when he is betrayed by those above him, he has no qualms about violating the sanctity of that chain with self-righteous regicide.

First and foremost, tough, this is a tale of horror. Innocence is defiled, limbs are hewn, bloody handprints symbolize the rule of law, and rule of blood is taught to youngest of all. We secretly wallow in the gore, sharing the victors’ sense of primal justice. We say we flinch at the grotesque, but we can’t help staring with wide-eyed satisfaction, like a family picnic at a lynching. This is a play that lets us wallow in the righteousness of our modern more-civilized ethos and still enjoy the excess of a less-enlightened barbarianism. It lets us judge our meat pies while we eat them.

And, for me, this is why “Titus Andronicus” cannot be dismissed as the immature product of a vengeance-besotted era, why it carries more than a promise of the classics that would follow it. It uses its simplicity, its bending to the tastes of its audience, its grandiose characters and gestures, all in the service of painting a portrait that is quintessentially human. So human, in fact, that it still resonates to a 21st-century politically correct audience.

As expected, Georgia Shakespeare has mounted a handsome and professional production. Lit in blood and earth tones, the set suggests the post-modern ruins of an abandoned art gallery. Abstract metal figures, vaguely human and vaguely suffering, line the two-story set. Costumes are contemporary(esque) for the most part, though the Goths retain a Germanic barbarian quality of dress, and Aaron suggest nothing less than a Middle East Pasha. Klimchak’s percussive soundtrack with its aboriginal overtones creates a complex emotional tone – these characters (in part) look as if they are part of a civilized world, yet their words and deeds and musics suggest nothing less than proto-human primal impulse and passion.

As to the cast, I was actually puzzled by the casting of Chris Kayser in the title role. Although he brings to the part his usual skill and power, his appearance is thin and clerical, hardly the overpowering warrior I would have expected. (As his brother Marcus, Tim McDonough towers over the cast, and, physically, would have made a much more as-large-as-expected Titus.) On the other hand, Mr. Kayser does have the uncanny ability to make everyone on stage nervous. If he is physically overshadowed by others on stage, he is never emotionally overshadowed. He commands every scene he’s part of, and his very thinness makes him seem more human, more heartbreaking, more shocking.

I was also taken a bit by surprise by Joe Knezevich’s almost-heroic portrait of the emperor Saturninus. Perhaps my expectations are too biased by Alan Cumming’s weasley portrayal in the Julie Taymor movie of this play, but I definitely was not expecting such a, well, such a normal character. But, as the play progressed, I began to see the intelligence behind the choice. All of sudden, the opening “election” seems less arbitrary, more justified. All of a sudden, the emperor becomes, not a co-conspirator of Tamora’s, but another victim, a pawn of the web of vengeance spun by someone more evil than himself. Yes, Saturninus makes some questionable choices and behaves in ways that may baffle us. But still, there is plenty of textural support for the choices made here, and plenty of emotional pay-off.

As the ill-fated Lavinia, Sarah M. Johnson brought an over-abundance of layers to the story. Believable as the chaste ingénue, she quickly grows into the giddy-with-love newlywed, and is absolutely heartbreaking after her defilement and mutilation, frustrating with her inability to communicate, riven with physical and psychological wounds that cannot be imagined, yet, seemingly, are here experienced.

And, of course, as expected, Tess Malis Kincaid offers a Tamora who is frightening, alluring, powerful, and every inch the Goth Queen she should have remained. If her two sons come across as extras from a “Road Warrior” movie, she is a true original, a bitter and intelligent puppeteer who does not, who cannot, allow any humanity or empathy stop her plan. That I felt a tug of regret at her final fate is a testament to her ability to fully flesh out what is often a one-dimensional villainess.

This is not a play for the squeamish. Director Richard Garner has not toned down the scenes of violence, even lets the attack on Lavinia stretch for many agonizing minutes as her tormentors treat her as a cat treats a mouse, as a plaything before a meal. Limbs are lost, heads are bagged, flies are eaten, blood pours like wine.

And yet, for all its Grand Guignol flourishes, this is still the story of two people seeking revenge on each other.

And it proves, beyond any doubt, that the old proverb is wrong.

Revenge isn’t best served cold.

It’s best served hot and steaming in its own juices, preferably backed into a pie crust of bone and blood.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

** Doesn’t this Elizabethan world view make you respect the achievement of “Othello” even more so? Shakespeare was, in effect, thumbing his nose at the overwhelmingly popular sentiments of the time, creating a character whose nature was belied by his face, and making the blackest of characters (Iago), the fairest of face.


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Sweeney Todd Minus the Songs
by playgoer
Sunday, July 12, 2009
4.5
Georgia Shakespeare's production of "Titus Andronicus" provides a strong contrast to the other productions playing in repertory, although it largely shares the same cast. Its scenic design is more formal and abstract than "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Its tone is more uniformly grim. The production does not transcend the material, which is on the thin and bloody end of Shakespeare's output, but it provides a distinct combination of style and content that could not be mistaken for either of the other two productions.

This is a bloody work, to be sure, but the blood appears in a more ritualistic than realistic manner. A hand is dipped into a basin of blood, then placed or smeared to represent death. One of the most powerful images in the production is the placing of a blood-covered palm against a wall.

The portentous mood of the piece is underscored by Klimchak's music. The audience seemed divided in its reaction to the music. One pair near to me commented dismissively that it sounded like he hadn't practiced in a while. Another person thought the music was very effective, underlining the formal, ritualistic environment with a Chinese-sounding score, and that Klimchak didn't receive the recognition due him during curtain call.

The cast is professional and powerful. Sarah M. Johnson, as in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," speaks with a lack of natural musicality that contrasts with the other actors, but in the role of Lavinia, her tongue is cut out early in the proceedings. Her mute pleas and posings are effective, particularly when controlled by the ropes of her attackers.

It's easy to laugh at the ridiculously gory elements of the plot when they appear in synopsis. In this production, though, they are presented in a manner that reins in such tendencies. The strongest humor comes early in the second act, as Titus Andronicus agonizes over the death of a fly, and a little later, as Chris Ensweiler's clown gives a muted, comic-tinged performance.

The cast plays with uniform passion and power, so no real standouts can be identified. Tim McDonough gives a very effective performance as Marcus Andronicus, brother to Titus. Chris Kayser, playing Titus, shows his acting chops by giving a performance entirely different from his Bottom in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Women's roles are at a minimum in "Titus Andronicus," so female ensemble members appear in minor men's roles. The only significant female roles are Lavinia (mute throughout much of the play) and Tamora, queen of the Goths. Tess Malis Kincaid, playing Tamora, gives a nuanced and expressive performance and, as always, carries her costumes well. Don't take her appearance on the poster as a sign that she's a large part of the proceedings, though. She's essential to the plot, but has limited stage time.

"Titus Andronicus" is the "serious" Shakespeare of this summer's season. It won't be the crowd-pleaser that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is, but it contains a number of design and performance elements that will please any devotee of Shakespeare's lesser-known work. It may best be seen in conjunction with one of the other shows, in which case the range of the actors is bound to impress. Even on its own, though, it embodies a relentless tragic rhythm that will satisfy. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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