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Titus Andronicus

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

Written: 1593

Actors' Shakespeare Project ; March 31, 2007 Cambridge, MA
Director : David R. Gammons ; Starring :
Reviewed on : 2007-04-11 16:48:25 ; Reviewed by : Will Stackman

All-male productions of Shakespeare recently have become more common on London stage, ranging from recreations of the Elizabethan style--in the academic tradition-- when women weren't allowed to act publically to the zany antics of Propellor now visiting New York. A play like Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus", the Bard's first credited tragedy, a Senecan gore-fest that may have been reworked from one by a lesser University Wit, Geo. Peele, is a sure candidate. Peele is credited mainly with helping to regularize the iambic pentameter mastered by his compatriots, such as Christopher Marlowe. The ahistorical storyline of the play is probably Peele's invention. This violence-filled effort with only three female characters, intended to compete with Kyd's bloody "The Spanish Tragedy," was a popular piece, acted in various forms up through the 18th century when its viciousness fell out of favor. But the show has crept back into the contemporary canon. Last fall, the longtime student Shakespeare Society at Wellesley College even attempted it in their intimate historical hall, updating this mythical Roman play to a conflict between cowboys and indians.

For this Actors' Shakespeare project, director/designer David R. Gammons makes the tale as clear as possible with a clean theatre-of-cruelty staging on a bare platform lit mostly by industrial lighting by Jeff Adelberg, stylizing much of the action. Gore is eliminated, replaced on a few occasions by clear water, while symbolic stones and ropes provide most of the props.

Actor/director Robert Walsh pulls out all the stops to play the title role of the general who has just defeated the Goths, while guest artist Joel Colodner anchors the rest of Andronicii family as his older brother Marcus, a senator. Dmetrius Conley-Williams plays the arch-villain, Aaron the Moor, with real relish in an ironic manner, showing his long experience with Shakespearean verse.

The main villain, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, whose revenge energizes the action, is assayed by John Kuntz in a mannered interpretation which doesn't rise to the level of energy needed. Likewise, Paul Melendy as the much-brutalized Lavina, Titus' daughter, doesn't engage the audience's sympathy. The concept of using an all-male cast founders slightly with these two roles. Anna-Alisa Belous' costumes for these two roles too doesn't feminize the roles enough, which further distances the interpretation. The quasi-black military outfit on Titus and his sons are more effective, with Tamora's sons in punk cammies sufficiently differentiated. Cowardly emperor Saturninus, played by Doug Lockwood and his brother Bassianus, done by Daniel Berger-Jones, are more civilian, but not as effective. The black and white motif becomes monotonous.

Gammon's approach to the opening of the play stresses the ritualization of violence in this view of ancient Rome, and establishes Titus commitment to the stones of his ancestors. While the theme permeates the production--stones are everywhere--but the tone stretches thin, disappearing almost completely by the end of the production when Titus' madness after his daughter is ravished turning almost comic. A good understanding of the scenario makes it much easier to follow the action. ASP's does it all with much toing-and-froing requiring close attention. The rest of the fifteen member ensemble is generally up to the challenge of playing Titus' remaining sons, assorted Romans, Goths, etc.

The revenge theme is sadly all to familiar on the nightly news, in Iraq, and on the streets of Boston's Dorchester. The company has tried to perform their three hours action without contemporary references but has scheduled extra events to broaden the play's scope. It will be interesting to see how this theme continues next season when they've scheduled an all-female version of the Scottish play, a more mature study of violence with a clearer political message.

Samuel Woodforde,
Lavinia, Demetrius and Chiron

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