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Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus

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Christopher Plonka, Bassianus and Isabelle Gardo, Marca Andronicus

I’m George Walker

Shakepeare’s revenge play, Titus Andronicus is at IU’s Ruth N. Halls Theatre, January 18-26. Here are a few of the reasons to see this self-assured production, directed by James Nelson. One, you’ll be able to one up your most erudite friends. Two, this is probably the only chance you’ll ever get. Three, it’s  imaginatively costumed with regal and gothic touches by Elizabeth Grace Davis,  nicely deployed on Jennie Fisher’s  scenic design,  and artfully lighted by Darrian Brimberry . Four, it’s a pretty good play

The commanding Titus, Reid Henry is returning weary from years of war, bearing the bodies of two of his twenty something sons killed in battle. He’s also got prisoners, the wicked Tamora, Julia Klinestiver the queen of his enemies, her colorful Moor Aaron, Kenneth Arnold II, and her three sons. To bury his sons, Titus requires the sacrifice of one of Tamara’s. Despite her motherly pleadings the killing is done off-stage and a sample is brought and tossed into the orchestra pit. That pit is going to fill up as the play goes on. Tamora swears vengeance.

The well-spoken Saturn us, Daniel Meeks and the wily Bassanius, Christopher Plonka. Each lead a faction and would be the emperor. Things are ironed out and with the marriage of Saturnius to the revenge swearing Tamora, and her allies Aaron and her remaining sons, Demetrius, Caleb Curtis and Chiron, Nathaniel Kohlmeier.

As with any of Shakespeare’s plays, there’s plenty of plot and plotting in Titus Andronicus and in this one the body count gets into double digits. A crazed Titus kills his son Mutius, Tayler Fisher. Tamora’ son’s rape, cut out the tongue and cut off the hands of Titus’s graceful daughter Lavinia, Mia Siffin. His sons Quintus, Connor Starks and Martius, Katie Malish wind up in a pit…that multipurpose orchestra pit…with the body of Bassanius. Aaron, the father of a baby with Tamora offers several eloquent speeches of his past misdeeds and desire to keep right on committing them.

The finale of Titus Andronicus is a banquet for Queen Tamora and the Emperor Saturnius. They’re served a pie filled with the stewed bodies of Tamora’s sons. Aaron, the scheming Moor is condemned to be buried alive. Throughout the play, Titus’s sister, the resolute Marca, Isabelle Gardo and his son Lucius, Peter Ruiz have been as close to sanity as anyone in the play. They’re joined by the well-spoken, Young Lucius, Dan Keller.

There is some broadly dark humor in the production. Saturday night’s audience laughed heartily as Connor Starks dithered about the edge of the pit and there was laughter as well when Titus, Marca and Lucius all vied to see who would donate a hand to rescue Titus’s sons. There were also cheers as Queen Tamora met defeat at the dinner table.

Diction, always a challenge in Shakespeare, throughout was clear. The cast was aided by coaching from Grant Goodman. Although much of the graphic action occurs off stage, Leraldo Anzaldua is the fight cooridinator. Jenny McKnight is the intimacy coordinator.  Now, if I could figure out why each of the whole ensemble picked up and deposited a pair of shoes in the orchestra pit at the beginning and left a pair at the end, I’d be a happier reporter.

The IU production of the seldom performed Titus Andronicus, and your opportunity to impress your friends with the depth of your Shakespeare knowledge continues in the Ruth N. Halls through January 26,

At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.

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