There is no way to make Titus Andronicus into anything but a sleazy shitpile. In recent years, as exploitation and slasher movies gained popularity, Titus took a new lease on life as their doddering great-grandfather, and all sorts of friends to pulp novels and B-movies try to turn the gore of Titus into something adorable. There’s neither anything adorable or even subversive about Titus Andronicus. It’s a gasbag of a play that breaks taboos you didn’t even know were taboos. It’s a failed black comedy - an attempt to turn rape, mutilation, the honor killing of children, and cannibalism into something amusing. Even if you approve of this, and I like you a little more if you do, a thousand B-movies in our era do what Titus did a thousand times better; or just go on the internet. A thousand videos a day pop up on the internet to make the shocks of Titus Andronicus into something utterly tame. As I watched it this past Sunday afternoon, November 8th, at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater, all I could think of was how many thousands of times more subversive and disturbing Assassins was than this.
The production didn’t make many bones about how ridiculous this play is. They made a half-hearted attempt to re-create it as something punk 400 years before punk existed, or a rough draft of a Tarantino movie (clearly somewhere between Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction if the costumes are any indication…). But Titus was neither proto-punk nor proto-Tarantino, it was Shakespeare’s theatrical attempt to compete with such wonderful Elizabethan spectacles as public execution and torture, or that particularly charming exhibition of their era - putting twenty-odd cats in a cage and lowering the cage by a chain into to a bonfire - the audience would bellow hysterically at the howling noises the cats would make as they roasted alive.
But most of the time, the actors completely forgot the point of the production - to quality’s benefit. They competently went through the motions of this competent but pointless play, neither attempting to make it into high art, nor even seeming as though they particularly believed in its quality. I don’t blame them.
There were only two actors who managed to distinguish themselves. One was Gregory Burgess as Aaron the Moor, who managed to exude charisma and charm in the play’s only part that even has a second dimension. The other, to my astonishment, was Karin Rosnizeck as Queen Tamora. She managed to make an incredibly stupid part into something truly evil, sexy, complex, three-dimensional, dare I say… Shakespearean? After seeing her work such a miracle from such stupid material, I can only hope that she will play Lady Macb*th in the Chesapeake’s upcoming production. She just might be the kind of actress you’d follow to hell and back.
In (what I hope will be) future issues of The Baltimore Torch, I hope to talk plenty about the stupidity of theater people and make lots of enemies in the process. Theater productions are always forty years late to every single intellectual fad, and present them to the world as though there’s anything shocking about what they do. No wonder nobody in America cares about theater… But why waste such valuable trolling on what’s already such bad material? Soon enough, some theater company will massacre a play that isn’t just about massacres. When they do, The Torch will be there, ready to massacre them and carve the turkey all the way to the stuffing.
Unless, of course, you’re going to produce my plays. Please, please, PLEASE, perform me!!!!