Modern audiences have "Halloween," "The Shining," "Night of the Living Dead," and "Psycho."
The Elizabethans had Thomas Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy," Christopher Marlowe's "Tamburlaine the Great," and Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus." The latter is making a rare appearance at this season's Utah Shakespeare Festival in a strikingly visceral and visual production.
These three plays are prime examples of the extremely popular Elizabethan genre called the revenge tragedy. Revenge, interestingly enough, is a motif that runs through this summer's festival productions, often hand in hand with redemption and forgiveness. However, in "Titus Andronicus," the retribution is remorseless and hardly anyone emerges unscathed. "Titus Andronicus" is "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" of its day, so who knows, it may acquire renewed life as a cult classic. Stranger things have happened.
The play is early Shakespeare (another playwright may even have written the first act), but there are flashes of poetry and insight that prefigure what will come later. You have an opportunity to see what magnificent use Shakespeare made of the revenge formula when the festival stages "Hamlet" this fall.
Titus returns to Rome in triumph with his Goth captives, the sensual, wily, and duplicitous Tamora and her sons. When Tamora pleads to spare a son who is about to be sacrificed, Titus arrogantly refuses, setting in motion the relentless cycle of revenge that is fated to engulf him and his family. Rape, murder, dismemberment, and general mayhem follow in accelerating fury, and the order in Rome quickly fragments into chaos.
In his director's notes, Henry Woronicz observes, "Titus Andronicus is a play about loss and its toll on the human heart, and it explores how far that heart can be strained before the burden becomes too great." Titus and his family suffer one disaster after another until he becomes madâ¦or does he? An enigma that echoes "Hamlet ." And Titus' relationship with his daughter, Lavinia, reminds us of King Lear and his daughter Cordelia. It's an ironic coincidence since Dan Kremer, who portrays Titus, played Lear the last time the festival produced it.
Kremer's Titus is a relentless inferno of rage and retribution; his performance is mesmerizing. Jacqueline Antaramian's Tamora is a priestess of evil, heartless and vindictive. Melisa Pereyra gives an impressive performance as Lavinia, ingeniously using her body and eyes to express what her voice cannot. Bryan Humphrey's Marcus is the spokesman for reason and moderation, as he is in several productions this summer. As the malevolent Aaron, Corey Jones personifies villainy, exulting in his cruelty. John G. Preston's autocratic, unfeeling emperor; Jeb Burris and Steve Wojtas as Tamora's diabolical sons; and Christopher R. Ellis' stalwart Lucius offer strong support.
Woronicz has cut the play to keep it moving and stylized the violence to make it more artistic and acceptable to the audience. Kevin Copenhaver's eclectic costumeswhite and black with striking red touchesare not tied to any particular period. Combined with Donna Ruzika's flash of red lights and Barry Funderburg's sound accents to punctuate violent moments, they give the play an eerie, surreal feeling that provides welcome distance.
"Titus Andronicus" is strong stuff and may not be everyone's cup of tea (or meat pie), but it sheds light on Shakespeare's growth as a playwright and a popular trend of his time. As Woronicz notes, if you're a fan of B movies, this production is for you.
Bottom line • The Utah Shakespeare Festival's strong and stylish production of "Titus Andronicus" offers a rare chance to see one of the bard's earliest efforts.
When Â» Through Sept. 1; shows Monday-Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Check festival website for exact dates and times.
Where Â» Adams Shakespearean Theatre on the campus of Southern Utah State University, 315 W. Center St., Cedar City.
Info Â» Tickets $22-$71. Visit http://www.bard.org or call 800-PLAYTIX or 435-586-7878.
Running time • Two and a half hours (including an intermission)