Theater Review 'Titus Andronicus'

By: 
Ben Miles
TAMORA (Sarah Hoeven) pleads with Titus (Kevin McGrath) to spare her son from a ritual sacrifice.

William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy “Titus Andronicus” somewhere between 1588 and 1593, likely in collaboration with poet and dramatist George Peele. It’s assumed by scholars to be Shakespeare’s iniatial foray into tragedy, and is considered to be his effort to mirror the blood-splattering and popular revenge plays of his 16th century playwrighting counterparts.

Now “Titus Andronicus” is onstage at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, through September 14. But despite the fact that it is the most violence-ridden play in the Shakespearean canon and is arguably The Bard’s least admired play (it gained a following in the 20th century and much traction after the 1999 film adaptation, directed by Julie Taymor and starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange) – the long-standing Long Beach Shakespeare Company, under the direction of Brandon Cutts, does an admirable job of conveying the futility of revenge and blind-hearted payback.

The story begins subsequent to the death of the Roman Emperor, with his two offspring bickering over who will ascend to the Emperor’s seat of power – Bassianus (Jahnavi Aithal who also chracterizes several other roles, including the Clown) and Saturninus (cleverly incarnated by Eduardo Mora). Marcus Andronicus (a clean-cut Dan Novey ) soon intervenes and announces that the people have chosen his older brother, Titus, who is soon to return to Rome – after a decade-long war against the Goths – as the newly selected Emperor (an appropriately weathered Kevin McGrath brings a complexity of faux gravitas to the role of Titus). Nevertheless, Titus renounces his own Emperorship and instead throws his endorsement to Saturninus to rule the empire. Saturninus then informs Titus that he will marry Titus’s daughter, Lavinia (Rachel Speth in this bloody and harrowing role), though Lavinia is already pledged to Bassianus.

When Titus enters Rome amidst much celebration, he is accompanied by those he took as captives: Queen of the Goths, Tamora (a malevolently charismatic Sarah Hoeven), and her three offspring, Alarbus, Chiron, and Demetrius, as well as Aaron the Moor – who is also Tamora’s clandestine lover (Jahnavi Aithal, Cole B. Norcio, Ian Stewart Riley and Corey Emanuel Wilson, respectively). When Titus orders the death of Tamora’s eldest offspring as revenge for the death of his own sons during battle, Tamora and her surviving sons become sworn to their own revenge.

“Titus Andronicus” is a highly convoluted conceit and the gender-neutral casting – such as the able Maroon Stranger in the traditionally male role of Lucius Andronicus – only enhance an already confusing Shakespearean plot. Still, the production values are imaginative; the costuming by Dana Leach, the choreography by Monica Wasynczuk, the musical direction by Edmund Velasco, as well as the lighting design by director Brandon Cutts and the set design by Nicole Brauchner all exhibit creativity and artistic commitment to this production of “Titus Andronicus.”

“Titus Andronicus” continues at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company through September 14.

The LBSC is located at the Helen Borges Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach.

Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m.

For reservations call (562) 997-1494. For online ticketing and further information visit LBShakespeare.org.

ben@beachcomber.news

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