BWW Reviews: Taffety Punk Puts New Spin on TITUS ANDRONICUS
DC's ambitious Taffety Punk Theatre Company is no stranger to putting on all-female productions of Shakespeare's plays and being successful at doing so. This year's "Riot Grrrls" production tackles what's normally regarded as the Bard's bloodiest play, but one that hasn't always been the most popular. Titus Andronicus depicts a classic revenge cycle - one that doesn't end until seemingly the maximum amount of blood has been spilt. Past wars and questions over royal succession, arranged marriages, and political power, those macro issues are intertwined, made personal, and have huge implications for the fate of the royal and military leaders as well as their family members.
Under the solid direction of Lise Bruneau, the fearless twelve women of Taffety present an in-your-face, well-paced, and intimate take on the classic story that makes full use of the black box space at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. Given the amount of angst present in the script, a lesser company of actresses may have presented a melodrama that teeters on the brink of 'campiness.' However, even as they traverse scenes filled with fights (Lorraine Ressenger) and graphic violence - let's just say more than a few hands are cut off even before the death scenes - making good use of theatrical ways to depict bloodshed (red scarves), they give well-rounded acting performances that allow us to see each character's motivation and desired endgame. It's raw and real, but never over the top.
Although all of the actresses are strong, a few give performances deserving of specific mention. As the title character, Isabelle Anderson makes a strong impression in her Taffety Punk debut. Even as the character - as written - is a bit one note, her performance most definitely is not. There's a notable distinction as to how Anderson presents herself as an official figure and how she presents herself as father to Lavinia (an expressive Rayna Kay who's as adept with non-verbal communication as she is with verbal communication) who's impending forced marriage to the King, Saturnius (Tia Shearer), is one of the forces behind the escalating violence.
Shearer likewise is a revelation as Saturnius. Carefully balancing a maniacal personality with - dare I say it - a bit of charm, she maintains a strong and believable presence throughout the show. Ms. Shearer has been a mainstay in many children's theatre productions in DC and here she more than proves her versatility.
Finally, Amanda Forstrom and Teresa Spencer prove more than adept with the physical demands of the show as they take on the roles of Chiron and Demetrius. They transform into young men who have no qualms about less than fair fighting - such as the kind you might find on a street in an urban area - and have a sense of determination and one-mindedness that's quite captivating.
Minimal sets (Jessica Moretti and Katie Dill), costumes (Kimberly Parkman), lights (Brittany Diliberto, who aids in establishing the intense environment that the characters inhabit), and sound (Palmer Hefferan) prove valuable assets to the production without taking away from the raw, no-frills kind of theatricality that works so well for this company.
This timeless presentation is definitely one that needs to be seen. At just $15 a ticket, Taffety makes Shakespeare accessible to everyone and, to my mind, is among the most successful in the city at doing justice to the material - regardless of ticket price.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.
Titus Andronicus plays through October 26, 2013 at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop - 545 7 St, SE in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online.
Photo by Brittany Diliberto (Isabelle Anderson pictured).