T.S. Eliot called Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus “One of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.” This perhaps qualifies the play as perfect theater fare for the 21st century where absurd and often trite horror films draw massive crowds—where movies like Hannibal, in which villain Hannibal Lecter feeds one of his victims his own brain, are rousing entertainment.
Like venerated and now-mainstream director Peter Jackson’s (Lord of the Rings) cult horror/comedy Dead Alive, Titus Andronicus could be described as Shakespeare’s venture into the cult genre. Titus touches upon grisly taboo stuff such as lunacy, infanticide, cannibalism, rape, murder, torture and mutilation, but is capable of maintaining an absurd comic element if done just right.
Brüka Theatre performs Titus to great comedic effect. Like the laughs earned in Pulp Fiction when Vincent Vega (John Travolta) accidentally shoots the guy in the back seat of the car, the chuckles generated by Brüka’s Titus are the result of the audience’s macabre and sick sense of humor.
The cast of Brüka’s Titus is very large, and except for a couple less-experienced actors in smaller roles, the majority of the performances are impressive. Director Michael Grimm (RN&R contributor) lets each actor bring his/her own brand of humor and irony to each role, molding the performances slightly to produce an overall caustic, tongue-in-cheek tone.
Unfortunately, there are too many great performances to go into depth describing the finer nuances that make all of them outstanding. It should be mentioned, though, that Titus features many actors who are first-timers with Brüka, and it’s refreshing to see so many talented new faces.
Mary Bennett is a Brüka regular who delivers a fine performance as always. Tamora (Bennett) is Queen of the Goths, who is seeking revenge against Roman general Titus Andronicus (the strong and dramatically diverse Bob Ives) for conquering her people and killing her eldest son. Bennett plays Tamora as the combination of all the nastiest and cleverest Disney-style witches and stepmothers; her evilness and mannerisms are so over-the-top that she becomes the funniest character in the play.
Brüka newbie Brian Barney as Roman emperor Saturninus and brand-new husband to Tamora (the couple’s spontaneous marriage is one of many what-the-heck moments in Titus) plays his character like a bombastic politician, strong in speech but relatively clueless as to how the world moves around him. James Scoggins as Marcus, Titus’ brother, is a fine actor who makes his character noble and humble and who demonstrates genuine horror and compassion when his niece is maimed.
All the Goths except Bennett are new to Brüka. A fun choice by Grimm was to actually attire the Goths in modern-day Gothic clothing—lots of black and vinyl. Aaron (Derek Evans), a Moor and Tamora’s secret lover, is the callous and twisted miscreant who encourages treachery of the other Goths. The constant smirk Evans wears makes Aaron’s villainy all the more chilling. Walter Hawkins as Demetrius and Dirk Miller as Chiron, Tamora’s heinous sons, deliver hilarious breakout performances that should keep them fresh in the minds of local theater casters for some time to come.
With the current popularity of the revenge epic Kill Bill, there seems to be no finer time for a play about cycles of vengeance. And regardless of whether or not severed heads and gushing blood are your cup of tea, Titus Andronicus offers some of the funniest, wickedest and finest performances in recent theater memory.