William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" is a killer show. To die for, literally.|
The Bard is at his bloodiest and most violent in this 16th-century tragedy -- one of Shakespeare's earliest works, and one of his most maligned and rarely performed. To Jake Walker, of Rock Island, director of the Prenzie Players' production opening tonight, "Titus" is a tale he's wanted to tell for 10 years.
"I think a big reason it's rarely done is just the gratuitous violence," he said. "But that's what initially attracted me as a teenager, like horror films. There's a lot to the play -- the violence has a macabre sense of fun, great characters, great story, great language in it. As morose as it is, it is witty. There are moments of humor, but can only be described as dark humor."
Set during the Roman Empire, the gore of "Titus" has been summarized as "14 killings, nine of them on stage, six severed members, one rape (or two or three, depending on how you count), one live burial, one case of insanity and one of cannibalism -- an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines," and "a nonstop potboiler catalog of abominations."
A revenge story pitting two battle-hardened families against each other, the play centers around Titus Andronicus, a general who returns from 10 years of war with only four of his 25 sons left. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and Aaron the Moor. He sacrifices her eldest son to his own dead sons, which earns him Tamora's unending hatred and promise of revenge.
Tamora is made empress by the new emperor Saturninus. To get back at Titus, she schemes with her lover Aaron to have Titus' two sons framed for the murder of Bassianus, the emperor's brother. Titus' sons are beheaded, and she urges her sons, Chiron and Demetrius, to rape Titus' daughter, Lavinia, after which they cut off her hands and tongue so she cannot give their crime away
"The family issues are huge," said Mr. Walker, 28, who drove to Stratford, Ontario, last summer to see the show, which also has been filmed by Julie Taymor. "The depths they go to in their war are a lot more sadistic than anything else he wrote."
The "revenge tragedy" genre was "enormously popular at the time," he said of Shakespeare's era. "This was the moneymaker at the time; the same reason you have a new 'Saw' movie coming out every year. People want blood."
"People speculate that Shakespeare was making fun of the genre -- it's so ridiculous, so over-the-top," said Catie Osborn, who plays Lavinia and was in last year's "Pericles" by Prenzie. "He was just writing what he knew."
"What I really like about the show, at some point, it's a story about a family," she said. "Yeah, there's blood and guts and gore, but one family feels wronged. It's very much a story of a father and his daughter. It's kind of cool getting to play this horrid, abject violence, but also this love."
The show can become about violence (and this version doesn't use stage blood in each killing), but that's not what it's really about, Ms. Osborn said. "It's just that energy spent on revenge is wasted," she said of the message. "If you get your revenge, what is the ultimate point? I think it's more about the relationships, in our production -- it's not about the violence or revenge."
But the violence is used effectively, the actress said. "The coolest thing ever is when Titus kills Chiron and Demetrius, it's just so great every night." In a way, the "slasher film" Shakespeare can help draw in audiences who may not like his Elizabethan poetry or stories."Shakespeare can always be accessible, regardless of the show -- if you do it right, and it's handled properly," Ms. Osborn said. "It's very accessible. Everyone's seen a horror movie, seen a slasher film. Because Shakespeare is brilliant and awesome, he brings this emotional truth to this ridiculousness."
"This play is something I've always wanted to see done," said Mr. Walker, a Prenzie acting veteran in his first time directing.
For years, "Titus" was savaged by critics and scholars, but found new popularity in the 1950s in a stage version starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, then again in 1999, with Ms. Taymor's movie, Ms. Osborn said.
"With the horrors of war, it really does read well," she said. "People still get raped. I started doing research two years ago, and I would read where people had their hands cut off, their tongue cut out after being raped. It's a thing that happens. People don't talk about it. It's weird to have this 400-year-old play, and awful, barbaric things still happen."
If you go
What: Prenzie Players present Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus."
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and April 5-7; 1 p.m. Sunday. Tonight also will feature a post-show Q&A with the cast and production staff.
Where: Stern Center (former Hyman’s Furniture), 1713 3rd Ave., Rock Island
Tickets: $10, available at the door, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (309) 278-8426
Seating is limited. This show contains adult content.
East moline, IL Details
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