Without a doubt, there are scenes in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus that are difficult to watch. Actions that might come across as ludicrous on the page make one shrink with revulsion when viewed in the flesh, and within the confines of a small theater the effect is much like that of a horror show taken to the limit. Rape, murder, dismemberment, more murder, and about as much brutality as a person can handle in one sitting is what you’ll find at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre. That Coeurage Theatre Company can stage it so you can still appreciate the art in Shakespeare’s early attempt at tragedy is quite an accomplishment and also a reflection of the company’s passion and all-hands-in approach. Adapted and directed by artistic director, Jeremy Lelliott, it boasts a number of fine performances and an ensemble that is at the ready every step of the way.
In a nutshell, it’s Titus vs. Tamora, with each one bent on the other’s destruction in a game of who can be most cruel when Titus returns to Rome victorious over her and the Goths in battle. Because so many of his own sons died in the war, he kills one of hers as Roman code allows, and then in an about face, his own son Saturninus makes her Empress of Rome. From that position she plots Titus’s demise with her lover Aaron the Moor, and it’s a toss-up which of them gets the award for most evil character on the stage.
Ted Barton is exceptional in the title role as is Rebekah Tripp who plays Tamora and Anthony Mark Barrow as the poisonous Aaron. Barton plays the onset of madness with a disconcerting ambiguity that makes him unpredictable and arresting, especially in the final moments of the play. Tripp uses every cunning trick in her power to break Titus while winding her new husband Saturninus (Marc Jacobson) up like a toy.
She quite literally has him by the balls becoming in one fell swoop mother, lover, actress, and deviant advisor, and Tripp plays her hand with strategic intensity. If Jacobson were not so prone to yelling at the top of his voice to convey his character’s power he might also find there are other ways to accomplish the same intention without overpowering the small theater. Intimidation and even speaking to what we know is a crowded forum must still be modulated to the size of the room.
Other moving performances in the production include Doug Harvey as the betrayed Bassianus, TJ Marchbank as Lucius, Titus’s only remaining son at the play’s end, and Katie Pelensky as Titus’s lovely but unfortunate daughter Lavinia who commits no crime but suffers the most humiliating of consequences at the hands of Tamora’s sons Demetrius (Christopher Salazar) and Chiron (Zach Kanner).
Production elements create an imposing backdrop for the insanity on stage including the cold gray and wine colored palette of Dean Cameron’s scenic design and Kara Mcleod’s shredded textiles. Joseph V. Calarco’s sound design adds an increasing sense of agitation with its steady drip of tribal sound effects and shifting musical inserts that pierce when necessary while providing a continual eerie tension throughout. Watch for an unconventional musical instrument in the prologue that sustains a chillingly hypnotic effect.
The company is at the midpoint of its run of Andronicus – which has just been extended through August 31st – and since there is limited seating available each night I encourage you to make your reservations now. Who knows when this revenge tragedy will be staged again and Coeurage’s production is efficient, easy to understand, and brings its wealth of gore in at 90 minutes including intermission.
Shakespeare in LA
July 12 – August 31, 2014
Coeurage Theatre Company at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Cafe
2106 Hyperion Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tickets: (323) 944-2165 or www.coeurage.org/tickets