BWW Review: TITUS ANDRONICUS Gives Audiences a Bloody Good Time at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
'Tis the season for the bloodiest play in Shakespeare's cannon. If you get even slightly queasy at the sight of blood or vomit, this may not be the play for you. If you're in the mood for all the spooks and gore that you can handle, make your way to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for their production of "Titus Andronicus," running now through Nov. 2.
The play includes 14 murders, a rape, cannibalism, live burial and several other thrilling and haunting events in between. The play opens after the death of Rome's emperor, and his two sons, Saturninus and Bassianus are now campaigning to the people for the throne. The decision suddenly becomes simple when Titus Andronicus has returned from 10 years at battle and has been elected by the people as Rome's next emperor. Titus refuses, giving the throne over to Saturninus since he is the first born. Saturninus takes Tamora, the queen of goths as his empress, and threatens to punish Titus, his sons, Bassianus and his betrothed, Lavinia for being traitors. Tamora convinces Saturninus to have pity on the suspected traitors, and repair their relationship. You know the saying, "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?" Tamora puts this into practice as she tells the audience of her ulterior motive to seek revenge on Titus and his family for killing her eldest born.
Throughout the play you see the war between the Goths and Titus's clan develop, come to a head, and result in absolutely disgusting and appalling ends. People lose limbs, tongues, loves and lives at bizarre and malicious costs, and when the end comes you feel both relieved that it's over, and also wanting more closure on what you just witnessed.
It's messy in nature, but performed so tactfully by the talented company at Cincy Shakes. The entire cast gets better and better as the story unfolds and characters become more developed, but the energy in the theater is unlike most. Jeremy Dubin's direction of the play is highly interactive with the audience, and the cast seemed to feed greatly off the energy the audience was producing.
Maggie Lou Rader (Lavinia) stole the show with her intensely chilling performance as Titus's only daughter, and the most coveted lady in the play. From her entrance, you can't help but be on her side and wishing the best things for her. Her demeanor is sweet and fairy-like until her betrothed is murdered right before her eyes. The pleading monologue she delivers to Tamora, asking the empress to please kill her as living will be more painful, marks the change in her character and in her spirit. After this monologue, incredibly painful and unforgivable things are done to her by Tamora's lustful sons, leaving Lavinia without hands or a tongue. In this moment, Vader secured her spot as the highlight of the show. Rader's performance is nothing short of a brilliant master class in nonverbal communication and breakdowns. The vulnerability and honesty that Rader possesses makes that scene and the rest of the play all the more uncomfortable, as it suddenly becomes hard to separate yourself from the production you're watching.
The audience adored Justin McCombs as the comedic relief, Saturninus. In a play that is so heavy and gruesome, having a laugh and getting some buoyancy is much needed. McCombs' comedic timing is nothing short of flawless, and his physical comedy is perfect. There is a moment where his character receives many arrows to the backside, and the scene in which he's getting them removed plays almost like an old cartoon.
While I am not a horror junky by any means, this was a very enjoyable night to get into the spooky spirit of the season, and take in a brilliantly staged, gory Shakespeare play. If you have a strong stomach and love a good slasher film, this is the play for you.
For tickets and more information about "Titus Andronicus," running now through Nov. 2 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, tap here.