I was just having a conversation with a fellow actor who is also the Literary Manager for one of my favorite theatre companies, and we were discussing how incredibly difficult it is to stage a successful production of Titus Andronicus. Considered by most to be Shakespeare’s most bloody and violent play; one based on the many faces of revenge while still maintaining the despair of an almost Lear-like character whose mistakes compound upon one another to bring about the demise of his family and himself, ultimately. Despite the gore, the mutilation, the madness – American Globe Theatre’s production of Titus is remarkable in its simplicity and ability to tell one of my favorite tales in a manner that is palatable and WORKS.
Overkill is a word that is so often synonymous with attempts at mounting this production. From the amount of blood, the losing of limbs, necessary set changes and even a baby; not only is it technically difficult, but there is often a thin line between being able to do it well dramatically, and not having it turn into a circus freak show. This production exceeds expectations, and anyone (including Artistic Directors and actors) who has reservations about a viable production of this play should come and take notes. Not only has director John Basil been able to tell the tale in the most serious of voices and provide the audience with as much of the full effect of said issues without going over the top; he has also directed the actors to maximize the use of the language of the Bard while engaging in difficult physicality that is not trite or expected. I really was blown away.
I am familiar with the work of a handful of the actors, and expected a good show on their part; but kudos to the choices that were made to find the humor as well as the pain – and again, not at the expense of artistic integrity. Some standouts for me were the sexy and sultry Tamora (Elizabeth Keefe) whose murderous intent is quite believable; a stoic Lucius (Jon Hoche) whose emotional pain is a brilliant contrast to the comedic roles I’ve seen him in (most recently Fight Fest); Nick Vorderman’s comedic timing of the whining and annoying Saturninus (some of the delightful moments of the play); Aaron (Lamont Stephens) as the diabolical Moor whose only weak spot is the love of his son – whose use of the language was fantastic. Another wonderful pairing was Demetrius (Gabe Bettio) and Chiron (Adrian Saunders), both of whom showed different colors to their depravity; while Bettio’s full choices in his work kept him the more reserved until completely unleashed, Chiron was obscenely gleeful. They complemented each other well and made what could have been a distasteful rape scene into a well-choreographed horrific event.
Erica Knight’s Lavinia was so tragic, and I felt the actress carried the role quite well. I did, however, have moments where I was wondering if she was making specific choices of being in shock to the point that she was often devoid of the emotion that one might think a person who had lost her husband, was raped, and mutilated would have. It didn’t distract me to the point of not enjoying most of her performance, though. I actually look to the director with questions about those choices. Richard Fey’s portrayal of Titus Andronicus was, for the most part quite moving; however, I think I may have come on a night when it just wasn’t cooking for him as well as it could have been. The man’s talent is not to be questioned, nor his ability and mastery at Shakespeare’s work; however, I honestly felt it took him a good third of the play to really get cooking and for me to believe the snap he has as he sinks lower and lower into madness. Often I felt that he was pushing for emotion instead of allowing it to happen; that moments that might have happened on another night were being chased after. That said, I truly, truly enjoyed the show very much.
Hats off to Vincent A. Masterpaul’s set design; combining a spartan rotating stage, video projections (although they were sometimes a bit distracting), and stairs/cubbyholes, he created a world where all of this was possible – and where many other shows have tried and failed.
I look forward to seeing more productions by Basil’s American Globe, “Times Square’s longest-running Off-Off Broadway theatre.”
~~~TITUS ANDRONICUS (full production) by William Shakespeare Directed by Artistic Director, John Basil American Globe Theatre 145 West 46th Street, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10036 February 25 through March 21, 2010 Thursdays through Saturdays @ 7:30 PM, Sundays @ 3:00 PM Tickets: $18 - click here for ticket information