Christopher Durang '71s "Titanic" is theater for the id. Chronicling the final, hedonistic days of a dysfunctional family on the famously doomed ship, "Titanic" throws concepts like taste and restraint overboard, treating the audience to a voyeuristic daytrip through neurosis, incest and the broadest of sexual humor. Alexander S. Franklin '96's new production of "Titanic," through the strengths of its cast, steers a tight course through the hazards of obscenity and shock and treats the audience to a naughty good time.
"Titanic" centers on the libidinous fumblings of the Tammurais, an apparently stodgy Victorian family nursing a tangle of Freudian misalliances. The patriarch, Richard (Brian J. Saccente '98), upon learning that his son Teddy is not actually 'of his seed,' indulges his merrily lecherous feelings for his son, while also pursuing the ship's sailor, Higgins (Peter E. Scott '98). His wife, Victoria (Rachel A. Siegel '96) reveals she thinks she has had an affair with her sister, Harriet (Tanya C. Krohn '97), who is variously identified as Victoria's daughter, Arabella, as well as the ship captain's daughter, Lidia. The son, Teddy (Chris F. Terrio '97) has his first sexual encounter with his Aunt Harriet/Sister Arabella/Lidia, charges his father for sexual services and battles for his manhood with his mother. Presiding over all this is the dotty Captain (Eric E. Amblad '98) who wears a rubber dildo on his head and whose utter incompetence is responsible for the fatal crash of the ship.
The play succeeds because the stronger members of the cast are also the most prominently featured, and because everyone delivers and reacts to dialogue with a mixture of freshness and precision. Rachel Siegel's Victoria is the most compelling figure on the stage. She exhibits fine-tuned control in the role, evidenced by her ability to hold the audience rapt throughout a lengthy, silent reverie on her past sexual exploits. Siegel is able to simultaneously communicate the Victorian facade of Victoria, the manic sexual voracity lurking behind this exterior and the surprisingly human needs and doubts which underlie this destructive sexuality.
Brian Saccente, with his solidity and stiff-necked charm makes a sympathetic character out of the dodderingly incestuous Richard, who is eternaily flummoxed by the true identities of his offspring. Erik Amblad as the Captain achieves a similarly endearing effect; his Captain seems blissfully disinterested in the immorality of the characters. He is content to do impersonations with his dildo, babble appreciatively about the relative morality of the modern age and let the ship dash itself upon the iceberg.
Tanya Krohn's Lidia/Harriet/Arabella is clearly the most difficult role of the cast, and though Krohn charges with good cheer throughout the majority of Lidia's obscene antics, her occasionally rushed delivery signals a slight faltering in her resolve. The poignancy of Lidia's wish that the whole damn family would go down with the ship is proof that Krohn has brought a humanity to the burlesque figure of Lidia. In the end, her efforts bring a consistency to the fragmented role.
The same reluctance that occasionally surfaces in Krohn's performance is evident in Terrio's as well. Although Terrio performs the role of the besieged Teddy with polish, his performance seems to lack the enthusiasm of the rest of the cast. Only occasionally, such as a pantomime scene with Lidia towards the end of the play, does Terrio seem to let his guard down and muck around in the messy freedom of the play; such glimpses of energy leave one wishing he had shown the same throughout the play.
Durang's script blends the conventions of slapstick, classic musicals. French farces, family dramas, metatheater and Shakespearean word play into a daring yet intelligent collage, characteristic of his other works. The play moves along swiftly, though the last ten-minutes, set after the play has actually sunk, seems a bit anticlimactic.
Susan Zeeman Roger's multitiered, raked set, a recreation of the ship which actually "sinks", is as intriguing as a toy in a shop window, and is a visual complement to the child-like gleefulness of this very adult play. Sound elements, such as the ironic "Victory at Sea" entrance music and the incongruous barnyard sound-effects playing off-stage add a witty undercurrent to the action of the play.
The set, the cast, the script, and the attention to detail make this production irresistibly rich and seductive. Franklin's Titanic is sophisticated and polished and yet has an irrepressible momentum. The production navigates risky waters smoothly and with full speed ahead, delivering the audience shocked but aching with laughter.