Attention George R. R. Martin fans–it’s time to brush up your Shakespeare! After all, Will did it better and more than 400 years ago! This is more blood than the Red Wedding and well more affecting. After all, you can pause your binge-watching to catch your breath, but in the theatre, a friend told me, there is an atrocity every 97 lines in “Titus Andronicus,” and I believe it’s true!
Shakespeare was at the beginning of his career when he wrote this play and it is certainly an attention-getter. That said, it is considered one of the problem plays and there’s no one better at illuminating the darkest path in to these complicated dramas than director Brian Crowe. His “Timon of Athens,” in the 2011 season, gave a glimpse of his brilliant mind and this is a brilliantly realized production.
At the heart of the show there is a great cast, replete with many of my favorite company members, including the vibrant and masterful Bruce Cromer as Titus. Hail the conquering hero, who returns to his brother Marcus (Robert Cuccioli) and daughter Lavinia (Fiona Robberson), with sons including eldest Lucius (Clark Carmichael), Quintus (Braden Spear), Martius (Jackson Knight Pierce), and Mutius (Emery Lawrence) as conquering heroes. They arrive just in time to settle a quarrel between the recently dead Emperor’s two sons, Saturninus (Benjamin Eakely) and Bassianus (Oliver Archibald), over who should succeed their father. From the very beginning, Titus makes a very bad choice that starts, or arguably continues, a bloody rampage of violence, death, and mayhem. Titus has brought prisoners back with him, including the Queen of the Goths, Tamora (Vanessa Morosco) who seems completely feral, along with her lover, the Moor Aaron (Chris White), and her son Alarbus (Brent Comer) who has a very immediate and untimely end, and sons Demetrius (Torsten Johnson) and Chiron (Quentin McCuiston), who are the Castor and Pollux of cruelty. But Karma is a bi-otch and what comes around truly does go around. Shakespeare has clearly been the inspiration for so many authors from Martin to Stephen Sondheim, and when Titus invites you for supper, be sure to ask who’s–um–what’s on the menu. Titus’ flirtation, dance, and spiraling descent into madness is amazing to behold and, in the hands of experts like Comer, Cuccioli, and Carmichael—oh my!—and newcomers like Robberson, who has some much needed comic moments, you’ll have a very memorable evening.
Crowe has assembled a brilliant team of designers! Dick Block’s evocative set, with Andrew Hungerford’s light design, make the scene a corporeal presence–an eminence grise in itself, and it is so cleverly converted that you simply must see, from urban to woodland. Yao Chen’s costumes are also evocative–from Demetrius and Chiron’s leather and harnesses, to Marcus and the other Senators’ regal attire, to Lavinia’s various weeds–all brilliant. Among my favorites, however, are the ever-buzzing drones, who continually are sweeping, cleaning, fetching and present. If Edward Gorey had drawn minions, such would be these.
No production of this sort would be complete without the subtle chills and menace provided by Karin Graybash' soundscapes. The rushing audience entrances and exits and the sere soundscape reminds us that life is a bloody affair, fluffy bunnies and gamboling kittens aside.
Crowe’s genius, in making this bloody play palatable to an audience, is palpable as well. The stylized bloodiness gives all of the sweep and depth of actual bloodshed, without requiring ponchos for the first three rows. The immediacy and drama of the implicit and explicit violence carries a psychic toll, whose burden we all bear with us into the night.
Performances continue through Sunday, August 5, so the time is NOW to get the best seats. Check the schedule and call 973-408-5600 or visit http://www.ShakespeareNJ.org
for your tickets today!