Monday, March 15, 2010

"Titus Andronicus" at Theatre of Note

I went to see Titus Andronicus Saturday night at Theatre Of Note in Hollywood.

I am going to say a lot of critical things about this show, but a foreword: I REALLY LIKED IT. It must be a hard play to land tonally, and they did it effectively if not very originally.

It was derivative of Julie Taymor’s movie Titus. From the unfit anachronisms in costuming and staging, to the Alan Cummings-esque Saturninus. Although, despite the similarity between this Saturninus and Mr. Cumming’s (clear sexual deviousness, spineless whining, and George W. Bush-like entitlement) he turned in one of the best performances of the cast.

Unfortunately, the choice to play Saturninus as a whiny punk makes Titus’s handing over the empery of Rome to him the first act of madness in the play. Clearly, Saturninus is a moron and a crybaby and in contrast to the cool and professional-looking Bassianus, he is unfit to hold the rule of Rome. But despite the action being crazy, Titus isn’t played as crazy in the first scene. In this production he hardly seemed affected by the horrors of war from whence he came. He was cool, clean and concise in his action. And he doesn’t go insane until after he chops off his own hand (a terrifically acted scene by Dan Mailley).

I wouldn’t feel bad with Titus seeming together in the first scene, except that I made the mistake of reading the director’s notes before the show started. Thomas Craig Elliot, the director, wrote:

“Every time the action of the play seems too far-fetched, too implausible, I once again read stories about genocide in the Balkans, of hacked limbs in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, of rape used as a weapon of war. I read stories of veterans who have failed to reintegrate into society – stories of former comrades killing each other over twenty dollars, of husbands strangling wives in their sleep, of unprovoked brutal rape and murder.”

Come on. Seriously? The violence and horrors of this play are so over the top and intermingled with Aaron’s playful malevolence as he executes his plans against the Andronici, that it’s frankly an insult to veterans of actual warfare to draw any parallels between your little production and the theater of combat. Not to mention that now instead of enjoying your play, I was made to feel guilty for enjoying it. As a former Catholic, I have a particular aversion to this strategy. A note to directors: try not to make your audience feel bad about having fun at your play before the house lights come down.

Not that it wouldn’t have been interesting to make a choice to have Titus actually dealing with the issues of PTSD and reintegration, but he bore no characteristics of PTSD that could be detected by a layman, and the Taymor-inspired anachronisms in costume and design defeated any potential linkage to serious issues of modern times.

I’m really tired of anachronisms. Sometimes you need to be consistent onto yourself. I really get nothing out of seeing the servants of Saturninus don a Third Reich armband, hunt with machetes and then see the Goth army rallied via text message. I'm not joking. A blackberry. Shoot me in the face.

That being said, I was still able to laugh at Aaron’s unbelievable ability to manufacture villainy upon villainy and to care for nothing but furthering the cause of evil. And like I said, overall, I liked the play a lot.

It doesn’t sound like I did, does it? I have that problem. I’ve never been one to heed Thumper’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice. Don’t say nothing at all.” I like bunnies.

85% of the performances were outstanding, and theater being the actors’ medium, I’m happy to forgive any directorially folly in favor of the sweat and efforts put forth by the cast. Aaron, Saturninus, Titus, Tamora, Demetrius, Lavinia, Marcus… they were strong, at times frightening and dangerous, and appropriately moving.

I would recommend that you go see it, but sadly Saturday was closing night.


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