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The Eliot Drama group should be congratulated not only for choosing Titus Andronicus but also for giving it a careful, emphatically powerful production.
Critics have blasted the play as a primitive Kydian horror drama, full of murder but totally empty of any more profound Shakesperean qualities. The critics exaggerate--less about the murders, which are truly abundant and dominant, than about the alleged lack of anything else. Although Shakespeare is particularly blunt in Titus, he still creates a drama whose vigor and clear foreshadowing of Lear, Hamlet and Iago should be respected, and cannot glibly be tossed aside.
The intensity of Titus is often enormous, and not at all due only to murder and rape. Some of the murders become tragedies.
Some, however, do not. And, furthermore, vicious and nearly unrelieved horror is extremely hard to portray on a bright stage so close to the audience as is Eliot's. Within this framework of difficulties, however, the production is admirable. The director, Roger Graef, treats horror boldly and hardly ever sacrifices his characters to a mere spectacular surface. Although his first act is occasionally loose, his later treatment is strong. The brilliantly ironic scene in which the vicious empress and her two sons visit Titus disguised as Revenge, Rape, and Murder is directed superbly. Lit in dim red and blue, which effectively decreases the awkward closeness to the audience, the scene shows excellent interplay among the enemies as Titus feigns madness and delicately winds revenge around his visitors.
As Titus, Arthur Loeb lives nobly up to an arduous role. Especially after Titus begins to be crushed, Loeb has great stature and feeling. At one point, thunder-struck by his two sons' heads, he stands wrapped in his cape, and becomes Rodin's eloquent statue of Balzac.
D. J. Sullivan plays the vile Moor, Aaron, with stunning force. Pride and pure villainy radiate from his posture and face, and his voice grasps Shakesperean lines with brilliant skill. James Matisoff, playing the Emperor is impressively curt, hoarse, and pouting. Michael Sugarman makes a most fitting brother to the emperor, but Abigail Sugarman is not always at ease in the crucial role of the emperor's vengeful wife. Her face and voice do outstanding work for her difficult part, but her gestures and postures float detachedly or rigidly. As Lavinia, daughter to Titus, Susan Howe is intense and haunting. After her famous entrance ("ravished; her hands cut off and her tongue cut out") she is fully successful.
Marcus, brother to Titus, is created with considerable 'dignity by Arthur Lewis, as is Titus's son Lucius by John Hallowell. The empress' two lecherous sons are delightfully costumed and, most of the time, well acted. The elder, as played by James Martin, is properly Presley. Michael Kenny plays a clown, who enters twice with exquisite gayety.
Peter Salisbury's lighting is elaborate--perhaps extravagantly so--but first-rate. The set, by Peter Chermayeff, has many stage areas, yet remins commendably simple. The costumes are handsome, and even the programme is striking.
If Shakespeare contributes youth, blood, and thunder to the evening, Eliot House contributes a worthy production.
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