BWW Reviews: TITUS ANDRONICUS at the Mad Horse Theatre - You'd Be MAD Not to See This Production

By: Jun. 10, 2013

The Immortal Bard. Billy Shakes. William Shakespeare. Call him what you will, he is the father of modern theatre. His work is the basis and inspiration for almost all modern pieces of theatre be it dramatic, comedic or musical theatre. Yet somehow, the typical modern theatre goer often regards his work as "foreign"; something that the populous doesn't understand. Something only for the theatre scholar or student to behold. I am here to tell you that not only can Shakespeare's work be truly life changing, but it IS accessible, and topical in our present world climate. And a production like the Mad Horse Theatre's stellar presentation of Titus Andronicus proves that to a tee.

What you need to know: This is not only one of Shakespeare's first works, but it is certainly his most bloody. There is very little time spent on star-crossed lovers, or even comedy that will crack a smile. The story, from its very start is bloody, brutal, and about, above all, revenge.

Here are the basics: Titus Andronicus (Tony Reilly) is a Roman general. He returns from ten years of war with four of his sons; but he lost 21 in battle. Among his captives are Tamora (Christine Louise Marshall) Queen of the Goths, her three sons: Demetrius (Erik Moody), Chiron (Nicholas Schroeder) Alarbus (Sean Senior), and Aaron the Moor (Joshua Hughes). To appease the Roman gods, Titus sacrifices Tamora's eldest son, which starts the bloodlust and the swath of death and revenge to come.

After a bit of trickery in which newly crowned emperor Saturninus (Burke Brimmer) makes a play for his brother Bassianus' (Jordan Handren-Seavey) love and Titus daughter Livinia (Kat Moraros), Saturninus decides to take Tamora for his bride. Titus, in an act of the madness to come, in what he considered treasonous actions by his sons, kills his own son, Mutius (Leo Hilton). To avenge her eldest son's death, Tamora schemes with her lover Aaron the Moor and her sons Chiron and Demetrius to kill Bassianus and rape Titus's daughter Lavinia to satisfy their lust. Not satisfied, they cut off her hands and tongue so they can get away with their egregious crime. Titus's two sons Martius (Shawn Reardon) and Quintus (Nathan Speckman) are then framed for the murder of Bassianus.

Titus' brother Marcus (Mark Rubin) discovers the grotesque Lavinia and takes her to her father, who is overcome with grief. Aaron the Moor ever the schemer, tells Titus, that Saturninus will spare his sons Martius and Quintus if either Titus, Marcus or Titus' only other son Lucius (J.P. Guimont), cuts off one of their hands and sends it to him. Sending his brother and son out in search of an ax, Titus has Aaron cut off his hand and send it to the emperor, but in return, a messenger brings back Martius and Quintus' severed heads, along with Titus's severed left hand. Desperate for revenge, Titus orders Lucius to flee Rome and raise an army among their former enemy, the Goths.

Lavinia, inspired by books held by her nephew Young Lucius (Owen Freeman) and with help from her uncle's walking stick held between her wrists, writes the names of her attackers in the dirt. Meanwhile, Tamora secretly gives birth to a love-child, fathered by her lover, Aaron the Moor. Aaron kills the midwife and Nurse (Jessica Fratus) and flees with the baby to save it from certain death. Lucius, marching on Rome with his newly acquired Goth army, captures Aaron and threatens to hang the infant. To save the baby, Aaron reveals the entire revenge plot to Lucius.

Still with me? Good.

With his family torn apart, and consumed with grief and blood-lust Titus' behavior becomes more and more erratic. Convinced of his madness, Tamora, Chiron and Demetrius approach him, dressed as the spirits of Revenge, Murder, and Rape. Tamora (as Revenge) tells Titus that she will grant him revenge on all of his enemies if he can convince Lucius to postpone his vengeful attack on Rome. Titus agrees and sends Marcus to invite Lucius to a parlay and feast at his home. Revenge then offers to invite the Emperor and Tamora as well, and is about to leave when Titus insists that Rape and Murder (Chiron and Demetrius) stay with him. Titus, never fooled by their disguises, cuts the sons' throats and drains their blood into a basin held by Lavinia.

Now for the epic finale: the feast at Titus' house. Titus asks Saturninus if a father should spare his daughter's shame, having been raped. Saturninus answers that he should, and thus Titus kills Lavinia, after which he reveals the identity of the perpetrators. When the Emperor calls for Chiron and Demetrius, Titus reveals that they have been baked in the pie that he and his wife had just consumed. Titus then kills Tamora, and is immediately killed by Saturninus, who is subsequently killed by Lucius to avenge his father's death. Lucius, consoled by his uncle Marcus and Young Lucius, becomes emperor. He orders that Saturninus be given a state burial, but that Tamora's body be essentially thrown away without burial rites. Aaron the Moor's fate is to be buried chest-deep and left to die of starvation.

So, at show's end, there are: 14 murders, 6 severed limbs (and tongues), 1 rape, 1 live burial, 1 insane man, and cannibalism. You may be asking yourself at this point, how in the world a theatre company could possibly pull off all of this death and destruction in a live theatre setting. The answer would be: brilliantly. Director Stacey Koloski creates a world in which the violence, though shocking at times, is relatable and relevant in our lives today. In fact, to quote her director's note in the program: "As the global news media machine churns and presents a 24/7 buffet of war, rape, terrorism, social injustice and myriad other inconceivable brutalities, we are ever reminded that these on-stage atrocities are not as far-fetched as one might imagine. They are frighteningly relevant today". I'm not sure I could've said it better myself. Through the minimalist set imagined by Corey Anderson (who likewise designed the lights), and modern, military themed costumes by James Herrera, Ms. Koloski is able to let the script, and on-point performances of her actors speak for themselves. Particularly impressive to me, were two things: The brilliant and bare bones set is adorned only with helmets, representing the fallen members of the Andronicus clan. Second, but perhaps most important, the handling of the blood, which is ever present in this piece. Koloski opted to use the color black to represent the color; more than that, there are no messy blood packets or blood-squirting knives. Only simple black lines to imply blood. And, most impressive and creative to me, black gloves to imply the loss of Livinia and Titus' hands. Which brings me to the cast. First of all, the entire company must be commended for an outstanding job as an amazingly cohesive ensemble. Nowhere is it more important to have a solid group of actors working as one, than in Shakespeare's work. So strong are they, that is almost hard for me to single anyone out. Christine Louise Marshall's Tamora is conniving, cold and domineering. Tony Reilly as Titus jumps from honored war hero to eventual mad man with masterful ease. Particularly strong is his admonishment of Marcus for killing a fly (a little hypocritical, Mr. Andronicus). Marcus' (Mark Rubin) unwavering voice of reason in a mad world is a solid-as-rock performance. J.P. Guimont's Lucius is forever loyal to his father, and inhabits much of his patriarch's vengeful frame of mind with such convincing fervor mixed with pathos at the loss of his many brothers and disfigurement of his sister; probably the standout performance, if in fact you can even pick one. Impressive not only for her depth of character, Kat Moraros' Livinia is a master class in physical acting; she spends ¾ of the show with her teeth firmly clenched, and her fists in gloves rendering her hands (that, as I mentioned, have been severed) completely useless. The oft scheming sons of Tamora, Demetrius (Erik Moody) and Chiron (Nicholas Schroeder) bring frightening realism to the young but unapologetic murder-rapist brothers. Their relationship somehow reminiscent of the Menendez brothers or Joran Van Der the best way, I assure you. And certainly not to be left out, is Joshua Hughes turn as Aaron the Moor; unapologetic and ruthless to the end, his strongest moment is his near hanging by Lucius. Spitting words and venom, he wishes he could only live long enough to do 1,000 times worse what he has thus far.

William Shakespeare is a master for a reason; his works are brilliant, timeless and always relevant. He created words in his works that we still use today, whether most people realize it or not. So, the next time you are looking for entertainment, don't shy away from the Bard. His plays just may surprise you. As will this fantastic presentation of Titus Andronicus by the Mad Horse Theatre Company.

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