A Bloody Good Show (Review of Titus Andronicus)
Springfield, OH – There has been much buzz about the latest offering from alternative theatre company, Springfield StageWorks. Titus Andronicus is regarded as the grittiest, bloodiest tragedy offered by the Bard; some even question its authorship because it stands alone, drenched in morbid irony and melodrama, with nearly the entire cast slain by the time the lights go down. Director and StageWorks president, Larry Coressel, saw an opportunity to challenge the community with his staging of this brutal classic.
Clocking in at a trim two hours, his production leaves no question unanswered, no sword unsheathed, no blood un-spilled.
Contrary to what other local reviews would have you believe, however, neither the audience nor the stage (well, maybe a little) was drenched in blood – only specific actors, thanks to clever ingenuity on the part of Technical Director, Chris Stevens. The dispersing of stageblood was well contained and certainly not over the top by any stretch of the imagination but, more importantly, it was so realistically designed that, while logic held fast (that’s not a real hand – he didn’t really cut that off, did he?), the suspension of disbelief was not swayed in the least.
The costumes were decidedly simple and, while that is certainly not a black mark, I would point out that there were some helmets that could have been left in the toy chest and that a certain female actress playing a soldier could have covered her ankle/foot tattoos with a little makeup or even binding. The Goths were noticeably marked with tattoos and to see them on a Roman takes away from that attempt at division – a minor issue, but worth mentioning.
The stage effects, aside from the intricate gore, were quite simple yet extremely effective. The set, skillfully designed by Springfield notable, Dan Hunt, was versatile and sturdy, allowing the actors to use physical levels throughout the evening. The lights, thanks to designer Plato Pavlatos, were fairly low through much of the performance, allowing for shadow play to add yet another wonderful dimension to the production. Rich, deep reds, greens and violets play to the emotion of each scene and event, intensifying the maniacal journey the audience has not so wittingly been dragged upon.
The entire production lended itself to a minimalist presentation, which made room for the story to unfold. That’s the magic of Shakespeare’s amazing grip on language and telling a tale through incredible dialogue. Though Elizabethan English may be difficult for the layperson to understand on first listen, solid delivery by actors who truly understand what they are saying ensures the audience will never be left wondering what just happened – unless, of course, that is precisely how the Bard intended to come across.
The theme of Titus Andronicus is quite simple: revenge, at all costs. Titus (Troy Berry), beloved warrior and would-be emperor of Rome, declines the honor and begs it be bestowed upon the bratty Prince Saturninus (Josh Katawick). Upon this reversal of fates, he hands over his recent prisoners: Tamora, queen of the Goths (Lisa Howard-Welch), along with her two remaining sons, the eldest of which had already been sacrificed to the gods at the command of Titus.
You see where this is going, yet?
Saturnine, upon accepting his crown and prisoners, initially takes Lavinia (Jennifer Holman) as his bride – much to her chagrin, as she is already betrothed to his brother, Bassianus (Ken Neal) – but then changes his mind, pardoning and claiming the cunning, motherly Tamora instead. Little does he know that she is in cahoots with a despicable Moor, Aaron (Marcus Simmons II).
What follows is a dirty game of one-upmanship, complete with rape, adultery, dismemberment and murder. In case you are wondering, nobody wins.
The cast of this delightfully morbid production was quite diverse, with a broad range of experience and expertise, and was exceptionally cohesive as an ensemble. As always, there were a few standouts that must be given mention.
Daniel Wilson, in the role of Lucius, the eldest son of Titus, was exceptionally passionate and true to his character. Likewise, Tom Stafford was thoroughly convincing as the level-headed Marcus, brother to Titus. Katawick delivered a fantastically bratty and narcissistic performance as the spoiled emperor, while Howard-Welch was deliciously wicked as the manipulative queen. Holman‘s Lavinia was laudably meek and sweet.
Marcus Simmons II brought such intensity to the role of Aaron the Moor; decidedly distracted by his desire to hurt the Andronicus family as much as possible; even the forbidden love of his Goth queen couldn’t pull him away from his plan for more than a moment. The only thing that seemed to bring him joy, other than his diabolical plan, was his newborn son. There was a marked change in his demeanor when he was faced with this new life and Simmons handled the shift beautifully.
The standout is an actor making his Shakespearean debut in the title role of this dark tragedy. Troy Berry remarked, early in the rehearsal process, upon how intimidating the role of Titus truly is, but you’d won’t see a drop of intimidation from him in his performance. He delivers each line perfectly, with shining power, firm righteousness, subtle humility and finally… in grief driven madness. Titus is the focal point of this tragedy – everything revolves around him; what he’s done and why, the mistakes he’s made, what’s been done to him and the pain he has had to face, time and time again and Berry embraces each and every moment soulfully. He has successfully blurred the line. While most of the individuals on that stage were acting their roles, Berry became Titus.
I urge you to experience the blood, revenge and madness for yourself.
Titus Andronicus is presented by Springfield StageWorks and continues this Friday & Saturday at 8pm at the historic State Theatre in downtown Springfield. Approximate run time is 120 minutes, with one intermission. Tickets are $10, available at the door on a first come/first served basis. Cash or check only, please. Doors open one hour prior to curtain.