Titus Andronicus

Sometimes, things don’t work out. The Actor’s Theatre, which planned to stage Titus Andronicus last year around Halloween, finally opened the show last weekend. Alas, this reviewer got clobbered by bronchitis and spent the weekend at home. What’s more, actor Ed Claudio (cast in the title role) caught a fever and canceled Sunday’s show. So, we can’t evaluate the performance, but we can say something about the script.All of Shakespeare’s tragedies conclude with dead bodies strewn about. Titus is the cruelest and most violent. Bodies start piling up in the first scene. Titus returns to Rome after subduing the Goths. Tamora, the Goths’ Queen, pleads for mercy, but Titus orders his sons to butcher her eldest son at the family tomb. They don’t just kill him: “Alarbus’ limbs are lopp’d, and entrails feed the sacrificing fire.” (Roman justice never was for the faint-hearted.)

Tamora gets even later. Her surviving sons waylay Titus’ daughter, kill her husband, take turns raping her atop his body, slice off her hands and cut out her tongue.

There’s more: throat-cutting, amputation, cannibalism and madness. The play also features a sort of black Iago: the scheming Aaron, who has a child by Tamora. If Othello is a “noble Moor,” Aaron is b-b-bad to the bone. His last line: “If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul.”

Popular in Shakespeare’s time, Titus faded after his death. It’s both gory and difficult to stage convincingly. But several classically trained actors, including Laurence Olivier and Patrick Stewart, have … er … taken a stab at the role of Titus. A successful 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company production led to many revivals. It will be interesting to see how the Actor’s Theatre meets this challenging script, once the fever subsides.