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Titus Andronicus

"Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge." Act I, scene ii

Written: 1593

Defiant Theatre ; January 0, 2003 Chicago, Illinois
Starring : Tere Parkes, Matthew Carter, Larry Yando
Reviewed on : 2003-01-22 11:15:10 ; Reviewed by : Antonia Mandry

Larry Yando in Defiant's Titus
My dictionary defines kinetic as "Of, relating to, or produced by motion." In fact, this is the perfect word to define the Defiant Theatre's production of Titus. Directed by Christopher Johnson and starring the remarkable Larry Yando as the eponymous "hero", this production sets a pace that rarely lets up and when it does, only to pack an emotional punch. Part of this is due to the text wherein Shakespeare escalates murder and mayhem to such a degree that by the end of the play you have four main characters murdered within seconds of each other; Johnson stages a mass murder that engulfs extras and minor characters alike (including poor Aemilius who does not die in the text). Obviously then there is some heavy editing of the text, both in the complete exclusion of the Boy (Young Lucius and to good effect) and the inclusion of the murder of Aaron's child. There is a kind of insane movement that completely takes over the stage; no one is spared.

What then can a performance that takes such liberties with the text offer? Quite simply, it offers an amazingly topical and infectious visual feast. I have never seen an audience so energized (it helped that most of the audience consisted of students) or such delightfully committed performances from the cast. Larry Yando led the cast with a brazen performance. This Titus is a man who begins as a father who values pride over his sons' lives. The Titus at the end is one who is completely shattered by the loss of all his children save one. Yando's Titus is a man who brings on his own head the atrocities that follow and yet we pity him. Another standout performance is the mincing portrayal of Saturninus by Matthew Carter. Always a role in which an actor must be exhorted to overact more, Carter takes this direction to heart. His Saturninus is a petty, self-doubting, venal "Presidential" figure; one whose very smallness leads to his death. Carter plays directly to the audience with a kind of absolute outrageousness that caused mild hysteria.

But finally, this is a production that is more about direction than acting. Christopher Johnson has his own self stamped all over this performance and while some of the parallels don't really work (the casting of Tamora's three sons as ethnically "anti-American", i.e. Iranian, Arab and Korean [North, that is]), the whole effect is more than the sum of its parts to such an extent that if Johnson hadn't himself pointed out those aforementioned parallels, the audience would never have noticed.

This is, at the end, a loudly engaging piece that shouts "Wake up!" to the American people, and as such, is appointment theatre.

Samuel Woodforde,
Lavinia, Demetrius and Chiron

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