PRELUDE TO BRUTALITY Mad Horse's
non-bloody Titus Andronicus.
The revenge-driven Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare's earliest tragedies, is also one of his most notoriously grisly — its Romans and Goths inflict upon each other not only murder, but rape, multiple amputations, and even cannibalism. Modern productions of Titus often make lurid spectacle of the violence, either realistically (gory blood effects) or stylistically (red ribbons), to comment on the effects of a culture that glorifies war. Mad Horse Theatre Company's new production is set by director Stacey Koloski in a world at once modern and atavistic, and downplays the spectacle of the blood.
The play's labyrinthine plot pits the Roman general Titus (Tony Reilly) and his clan against the queen of the Goths, Tamora (Christine Louise Marshall), and her clan. Titus has returned from war having captured Tamora and her three sons, Alarbus (Sean Senior), Demetrius (Erik Moody), and Chiron (Nicholas Schroeder). Titus then kills Alarbus, in retaliation for his own sons' wartime deaths, and this act sets into motion a horrific succession of vengeances, including the rape and amputation of Titus's daughter Lavinia (Kat Moraros, beautifully), and Titus's even more gruesome revenge on Tamora.
The action takes place against a wall of tribal masks; new masks are added with new deaths (a striking design, though the many masks hung for unnamed deaths at the outset somewhat diffuse the effect of the new ones). Before it appear both primal and civilized trappings: Titus wears modern camouflage and medals; nobles like his son Lucius (JP Guimont) and the tribune Marcus (Marc Rubin) Western suits and sashes, and Moraros's animated, bird-like Lavinia a 1950s-style dress. In contrast, Marshall's toxic, merciless Tamora is dragged in wearing what looks like an abominable snowman skin; she crouches over her sack-cloaked sons as if they are all are wild animals. Tamora cleans up well once she's chosen to wed the new Emperor, Saturninus (Burke Brimmer, in leather, with rarified arrogance), but her sons continue to dress like feral punks, with studded leather straps over bare chests.
Feral, indeed, are Moody and Schroeder's scary young Goths. Gaping, leering, and wanton, their delight in violence seems to happen not in revolt against a decent social code, but in a social vacuum, a world defined solely by emotion, sensation, and family influence: In a telling moment, Demetrius, raring to kill, watches their next victim, while Chiron looks to their calculating mother as if for a cue. Their mother's secret lover, Aaron the Moor, an unapologetic villain, has an angry but charismatic surety in the hands of Joshua Hughes, though the black Aaron's more fundamental bitterness and rage could go deeper, to suggest the systemic sources of his own terrorism.
In the title role, Reilly's mania and fury build bracingly, though he is particularly good in some quieter moments of Titus's madness, such as chastising Marcus, in child-like tones, for killing a fly: "And if that fly had had a mother and a father?" Given the production's modern allusions, Titus's psychology might have been deepened by some more explicitly modern gestures to what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, as one source of his madness.