If you are looking to get some trick-or-treating in this Halloween season, you need not go further than Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, directed by Ian Gallanar.
By S. Clarke Hulse’s count, Titus Andronicus is a play with “14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3, depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity and 1 of cannibalism–an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines.”
Séamus Miller and James Jager…work so well together as dark avenging bothers that I felt privileged to watch their interactions and enjoy their nuanced performance of the text.
Obviously, Titus is known as one of the goriest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, but it also mixes politics, war, revenge, paternal filicide and pride with its gore. And with its title character invoking a touch of Hamlet by playing up his semblance of madness to seek his revenge, Titus can almost be seen as a dark tragic hero.
Titus Andronicus (played by commanding CSC member Michael P. Sulivan), is a Roman general who returns from ten years of war with only four out of twenty-five sons surviving. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Karin Rosnizeck), along with her three sons and Aaron the Moor (an intense performance by Gregory Burgess). Titus takes Tamora’s oldest son’s head as revenge for the loss of Titus’s sons, igniting Tamora and her two remaining son’s vast hatred and an oath of revenge toward Titus.
Tamora is made empress by the new emperor Saturninus, and the battle of characters begins.
The beginning of the play feels a bit rushed and a bit confusing. The program says the setting is in America in the 1980s, but the first characters on the stage are dressed straight out of the 1960s, while others are dressed in late 1970s punk and yet others are costumed in Steampunk.
Some of the lines are too fast and are thrown away, and the pacing seems off until Tamora’s sons, Chiron and Demetrius, enter the scene.Séamus Miller and James Jager, respectively, work so well together as dark avenging bothers that I felt privileged to watch their interactions and enjoy their nuanced performance of the text.
Rachael Jacobs plays Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, and she is sweet and earnest in this challenging role. Violence and death surround Lavinia, and she descends to revenge, yet Jacobs clings to the innocent that Lavinia once was which and adds to the layers of her character.
The set, designed by Kathryn Kawecki, consists of a large 3-story stone building made to look like a bombed out structure. It is as rag-tagged and harsh as the characters in Titus. A large “A” inside a circle is spray painted across the large front double doors, presumably representing the name Andronicus but invoking the symbol for anarchy. The top of the building is home to the live band, Johnny and the Meat Pies (Nick Delaney, Tom Delaney and Chris Engler), who supplied most of the music throughout the show. With songs focusing on the “psychobilly” sound (music that mixes elements of punk rock and rockabilly), which is one of my favorites, my toes were tapping the whole time.
There are some tricks in this production of Titus, but the secondary characters, the music, Miller and Jager are the real treats in this Halloween offering.
Advisory: Strong adult situations, violence and gore.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Titus Andronicus runs through November 15, 2015 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For tickets call 410-244-8570 or 410-244-8571 or click here.