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Eerie 'Titus' Ushers in Halloween at Adams

TITUS ANDRONICUS Directed by Jose Zayas '96 At the Adams House Pool Theater Through November 1

By Lynn Y. Lee, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

If ever there were a black sheep in the Shakespeare cannon, Titus Andronicuswould be the prime contender. One of the Bard's earliest dramatic efforts, it's also his bloodiest and most sensational--murder, rape and bodily dismemberments abound, with some cannibalism thrown in for good measure. Director Jose Zayas' approach, however, makes a creative if somewhat over-zealous attempt to move the play out of slasher-film territory into a combination of comic irony and the spookily surreal.

It's a revenge melodrama that makes Hamlet pale in comparision. Set in ancient Rome, it traces the conflict between returning military hero Titus Andronicus (Padriac O'Reilly '98) and the late Emperor's son, Saturninus (Henry Clarke '00), to whom Titus cedes the throne. Trouble arises when Saturninus marries Tamora (Danielle Sherrod), Queen of the subjugated Goths, after being turned down by Titus' daughter, Lavinia, who instead marries Saturninus' younger brother Bassianus (Jesse Conrad '00). For Tamora bears a grudge against Titus and his sons for executing her own eldest son and is determined to seek vengeance. Various complications, and a great deal of cutting-off of heads and hands ensues.

As if to stress--or downplay--the ridiculousness of the melodramatic excesses, and perhaps place them in a contemporary context, this production frames the dramatic action with a rather broad poke at the modern media fascination with violence and sensationalism (a la Natural Born Killers). Viewers with weak stomachs have little to fear, however: the visual representation of the violence and bloodshed is quite restrained, consisting mainly of several sparing patches of blood and one remarkably fake-looking severed hand. Perhaps as an appeal to the spirit of Halloween, a lot of the physical pain the various characters inflict on each other takes the form of mystical gestures of conjuration rather than actual bloodspilling.

The set still manages to suggest the violence in some interesting ways--most notably the scene in which Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her sons Demitrius and Chiron, seek audience with Titus: it's transplanted into Titus' bath, accentuating the play's obsession with human flesh. Indeed, as if to further this alternative method of presenting this obsession, nearly all of the principal characters at some point or other are at least partially undressed. However, music, sound and lighting, much more than the actual set, are used to evoke an eerie, faintly unearthly atmosphere, and do so effectively. This is more than one can say for the dance sequences--stylized choreography notwithstanding, they end up feeling somewhat gimmicky.

No one in Titus Andronicus is a particularly sympathetic character, and the actors don't make the mistake of trying to win sympathy. Nor do they strive for the kind of perfect diction and modulation one normally expects from performance of Shakespeare. Instead, they play up the wild distortions, creating a melange of half-bestial, half-diabolical passions. As the two unredeemable villains of the play, Demitrius and Chiron, Kelly Keough and Chuck O'Toole '97 are costumed and made up to resemble a cross between macabre spirits and S&M partygoers--an image reinforced, perhaps overdone, by slinking movements and exaggerated gestures. As their victim, Lavinia, Zimmett grows more like them in her thirst for revenge--which she manages to convey without uttering a word. Interestingly, even in the beginning, Zimmett makes it clear that Lavinia isn't quite the paragon of innocence and virtue we might expect: there's an amusing non-verbal interplay between her and Tamora, in which she leaves no doubts as to her opinion of the barbarian prisoner.

Of the three most dramatically com- pelling figures--Titus, Tamora and Tamora's lover, Aaron the Moor (Uche Amaechi '99)--Sherrod, as the vengeful Tamora, is the most successful. Exuding an air of darkly brooding, smouldering bitterness mingled with a strangely tragic Cleopatra-like dignity, she somehow makes one feel she's as much sinned against as sinner.

O'Reilly, as the title character, delivers a thoughtful but slightly static performance: he doesn't quite sink his teeth into the Lear-like, madness Titus teeters toward, but he does manage to convince as a brave, basically well-meaning guy who nature probably intended to be a hero. Amaechi chooses to take a playful, goblin-like approach to the treacherous, unrepentant Aaron, which tends to diminish him as a personification of pure evil: he's more Puck than Iago. Jason Mills '99 plays Marcus, the faithful brother and sole figure of reason, as a semicomic counter to Titus, but has a moment of unexpected resonance when he discovers the raped and mutilated Lavinia--a moment that makes one wonder what he might have done with the role of Titus.

All in all, this production of Titus Andronicus provides an intriguing nontraditional take on one of Shakespeare's least well-known plays. More macabre melodramatic fun than true tragic drama, it nonetheless has moments of tension and poignancy that show signs of the greatness that was to come

O'Reilly, as the title character, delivers a thoughtful but slightly static performance: he doesn't quite sink his teeth into the Lear-like, madness Titus teeters toward, but he does manage to convince as a brave, basically well-meaning guy who nature probably intended to be a hero. Amaechi chooses to take a playful, goblin-like approach to the treacherous, unrepentant Aaron, which tends to diminish him as a personification of pure evil: he's more Puck than Iago. Jason Mills '99 plays Marcus, the faithful brother and sole figure of reason, as a semicomic counter to Titus, but has a moment of unexpected resonance when he discovers the raped and mutilated Lavinia--a moment that makes one wonder what he might have done with the role of Titus.

All in all, this production of Titus Andronicus provides an intriguing nontraditional take on one of Shakespeare's least well-known plays. More macabre melodramatic fun than true tragic drama, it nonetheless has moments of tension and poignancy that show signs of the greatness that was to come

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