It’s the season for the bloodiest play in Shakespeare’s cannon. If you even notice a slight feeling of nausea at the sight of blood or vomiting, this may not be the game for you. If you’re in the mood for all the ghosts and gore to deal with, make your way to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to produce “Titus Andronicus,” which now airs through November 2nd.
The play includes 14 murders, rape, cannibalism, live burial, and several other exciting and haunting events in between. The play begins after the death of the Roman emperor, and his two sons Saturninus and Bassianus now stand up for the people around the throne. The decision suddenly becomes easy when Titus Andronicus returned from 10 years in battle and was elected by the people to be the next emperor of Rome. Titus refuses and hands over the throne to Saturninus since he was the firstborn. Saturninus takes Tamora, Queen of the Goths, as his empress and threatens to punish Titus, his sons Bassianus and his fiancée Lavinia as traitors. Tamora convinces Saturninus to take pity on the suspicious traitors and to mend their relationship. You know the saying: “Do you keep your friends close and your enemies closer?” Tamora puts this into practice when she tells the audience about her ulterior motive of taking revenge on Titus and his family for killing their eldest child.
During the game you will see how the war between the Goths and Titus’ clan develops, comes to a head and leads to absolutely disgusting and appalling endings. People lose limbs, tongues, love, and lives at bizarre and malicious costs, and when the end comes you feel both relieved that it’s over and want more completion for what you have just seen.
It’s messy by nature, but it’s performed so tactfully by the talented company at Cincy Shakes. The overall cast just keeps getting better as the story unfolds and the characters evolve, but the energy in the theater is different from most of the others. Jeremy Dubin’s direction of the play is very interactive with the audience, and the cast seemed to feed heavily on the energy the audience produced.
Maggie Lou Rader (Lavinia) stole the show with her utterly chilling performance as Titus’ only daughter and the play’s most desirable lady. From her entrance, you can’t help but be on her side and wish her the best. Her behavior is cute and fairy until her fiancée is murdered right in front of her eyes. The pleading monologue that she brings Tamora and asks the Empress to please kill her, as life will be more painful, marks the change in her character and spirit. After this monologue, Tamora’s lustful sons do incredibly painful and unforgivable things to her, so that Lavinia has neither hands nor tongue. It was then that Vader secured her spot as the highlight of the show. Rader’s achievement is nothing short of a brilliant master class in non-verbal communication and glitches. The vulnerability and honesty that Rader possesses makes this scene and the rest of the play all the more uncomfortable as it suddenly becomes difficult to part with the production you are watching.
The audience adored Justin McCombs as the comedic relief Saturninus. In a play so heavy and cruel, there is an urgent need to laugh and be lifted. McCombs’ comedic timing is absolutely flawless and his physical comedy is perfect. There is a moment when his character is given a lot of arrows on the back and the scene where he removes them plays out almost like an old cartoon.
While I’m by no means a horror junkie, this was a very enjoyable night to soak up the creepy spirit of the season and record a brilliantly staged, bloody Shakespeare play. If you have a strong stomach and love a good slasher movie, this is the piece for you.
For tickets and more information on Titus Andronicus, which runs through November 2nd with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, tap here.