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by Shakespeare
Mad Duck Equity Co-op
Jericho Arts Centre
1675 Discovery St.
February 28-March 18
$12-$20 at 604.224.8007 ext 3

One of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, Titus Andronicus is probably also his bloodiest—and that’s saying something given the number of corpses that litter his later tragedies.  Though first performed sometime in the early 1590s, it has more in common with the late Jacobean revenge tragedies of twenty or thirty years later than with Shakespeare’s own early work.  The first of his Roman plays, Titus is an exercise in Senecan sensationalism: how many theatrical ways can you do atrocity?  Shakespeare’s answer was “many, indeed.”

Jack Paterson’s Mad Duck Equity Co-op production offers a powerful, gripping, and appropriately sensational modern-dress reading of the play that features terrific performances in a gorefest definitely not for the faint of heart.

Roman General Titus (Keith Martin Gordey), military hero and father of many sons, has defeated the Goths and brought home their Queen Tamora (Teryl Rothery) and her sons as prisoners. Despite Tamora’s pleas for his life, Titus allows her eldest son to be hacked to death.  This lapse in judgment, allowing military logic to trump humanity, sets off all the atrocities that follow.  The theme is Aeschylean: violence only begets more violence.  But it’s the violence we come to see.

It helps that so many of the characters are studies in cold-blooded ruthlessness and unadulterated evil.  The new Emperor, Saturninus (Craig Erickson), short-tempered and wild-eyed, takes the fabulously sexy, Sharon Stone-ishly bad Tamora as his bride just before she vows “to massacre them all” to revenge her son’s death.  Her lover, Aaron the Moor (Jason Emanuel), has a soul, in the racist Renaissance formulation, as black as his face (though Emanuel himself is light-skinned and ethnically ambiguous).  They fuck in one of the hottest scenes staged in Vancouver in many a moon.  Psychopathic Aaron, in love with his own Satanic villainy, choreographs much of the ensuing carnage.

The play’s horrifying centrepiece is the revenge-rape of Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Anna Cummer) by Tamora’s incestuous son and daughter, played chillingly by Josh Drebit and Laura Jaszcz.  In Shakespeare they are two sons, but the gender-reversal makes it all the more ultra-creepy.  Did I mention that they also chop off Lavinia’s hands and cut out her tongue?  Titus’ eventual revenge on the kids and their mom is, let’s just say, delicious.

Cummer gives a stunning tongueless performance in the aftermath of Lavinia’s rape and disfigurement, and along with Rothery’s vengefully seductive Tamora, and Lesley Ewen as the powerful tribune Marca, Titus’ sister (Marcus, his brother, in the original), they make up a triumvirate of fabulous females.  Emanuel’s Aaron and Erickson’s Saturninus are the strongest of the men.  Gordey is fine as Titus but makes him less interesting than the others.  The rest of the large cast has no significant weaknesses.

Jeff Tymoschuk’s sound and music effectively underscore the show’s most dramatic moments. Kudos to director Paterson for making everything work so well.  I was especially impressed by the way scenes of potentially ludicrous ultra-violence were staged and performed so that there were no inappropriate giggles from the audience.  You might want to avert your eyes from time to time, but you shouldn’t miss seeing this play.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Sunday, March 12, 2006 9:47 AM
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