Father to the Man: ‘Titus Andronicus’ at Theatricum Botanicum

Marie Françoise Theodore and Michael McFall Photo by Miriam Geer

Marie Françoise Theodore and Michael McFall
Photo by Miriam Geer

More politics than Caesar, intrigue than Macbeth, madness than Lear, racism than Othello, petards than Hamlet, and victim-blaming than Winter’s Tale. Theatricum Botanicum‘s boisterous, unsparing staging of ‘Titus Andronicus’ delivers the goods to those with constitutions strong enough to handle the carnage. This is early Shakespeare, possibly a collaboration, introducing themes that would be fully developed in future standalone plays. The plot: Vanquished Queen Tamora of the Goths is elevated to stature in her captor’s country and takes her revenge from within.

‘Titus’ has had a checkered history and isn’t produced nearly as often as his other tragedies. The savagery and gore make it hard to stage and equally hard to stomach.  The open-air setting alleviates what could be a claustrophobic experience in a traditional venue. Director Ellen Geer smartly associates perpetual war, double standards, backroom dealings, fluid loyalties, and mindless violence in fictional Rome to the present day. Her cast of the usual family members, friends, and newcomers offers unusual depth in difficult roles. Melora Marshall and Willow Geer adeptly play male roles renamed and reworked for women.  Geer the younger, usually at her best in comedy, ratchets up to play Lucia, one of Titus’s soldier children who stays just one step ahead of the slaughters. Sheridan Crist nicely handles Titus’s descent from conquering hero to loyal subject to madness.

Michelle Wicklas and Marie Françoise Theodore Photo by Miriam Geer

Michelle Wicklas and Marie Françoise Theodore
Photo by Miriam Geer

The blood flows early, it flows freely, and a good chunk of the rough stuff is in plain view.  The company is known for its anti-war stance yet is quite sympathetic to soldiers who are mustered into battles of questionable value or sense.   As Titus is pushed lower and lower by the state he served, two of his sons are framed for murder, and he offers his hand in a futile attempt to ransom their lives. Lavinia, his favorite daughter, is stalked, raped, and mutilated by Queen Tamora’s own two sons. Lavinia begs Tamora to call off the attack only to have the mother egg her boys on. It is as pitiless and merciless as anything in the repertoire including Sarah Kane’s Blasted or Jacqueline Wright’s Eat Me and mesmerizingly played by Michelle Wicklas and Marie-Françoise Theodore.   And there would it sit except for Michael McFall’s rich, resonant turn as Aaron, Tamora’s lover, the inciter of all the mischief, and the embodiment of pure, unrepentant evil.   McFall keeps his proudly unredeemable character center-stage and on a fine dramatic edge – oozing hate, lust, and vengeance without once overplaying it.

The production values are well-designed to set off the gore.  The costumes and sets are relatively spare but the stumps and blood inevitably draw the eye.  The performers move throughout the audience and those on the aisles will see it close-up.  The cast mostly avoid overemoting although a couple of scenes generated unintended laughter due to assorted staging choices.  Marshall McDaniel and Ian Flanders’s eerie scene-intro soundscapes got lost in the wash of opening night conversations but what did leak through heightened the experience.

It is easy to wonder about the setup:  How does  a spoil of war get into a position to cause such damage?  The allegory to modern times answers it.  The powerful look the other way and take care of their own, then as now.  It also raises the uncomfortable question of whether it is a good idea to show any mercy to a defeated enemy, no matter how just or unjust the war.

Titus Andronicus
in repertory through 25 September 2016

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N Topanga Cyn Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290

Season Brochure: http://theatricum.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2015Brochure.pdf

BOX OFFICE 310-455-3723
Tickets online at http://theatricum.com/tickets/

You Done Messed Up A-Aron!

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Next stop, Volodos: Evan Le plays Rondo Alla Turca

Through a pointer from Slippedisc: 5 year old Torrance-born Evan Le plays a Mozart favorite.

Child Prodigy Pianist Evan Le Plays Alla Turca (May 16, 2015)

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Extrapolating his progress, he’ll probably be playing this arrangement in a year or so!

Volodos plays Turkish March (Volodos Turkish March)

Watch this video on YouTube or on Easy Youtube.

Abjured Magic: ISC’s Richard III

The highs and lows average to solid in ISC’s Richard III on until the 24th July at Griffith Park.  Impresario David Melville assumes the mantle and a couple of other positions surrounded by an often amazing cast and disturbing electrification.   Director Melissa Chalsma codistills the original and Colley Cibber‘s once-popular adaptation amplifying the action but wisely restoring some of Cibber’s deletions.   Melville forgoes the hump for a limp,  is convincing when raging and scheming, and less-so when sweet-talking and seducing.  Amid the new faces is the welcome return of company veteran Lorenzo Gonzalez  whose own Richard dazzled at Barnsdall Park in 2005.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in the first half, mostly with corpses.  Not short by any means, it feels rushed and it is often a strain to figure out who is doing what to whom and why.  With so much real and implied gore, we wonder if nibs of the Merrie Olde were bound by any laws at all.  Post intermission fares better especially in a superb scene redolent of the Trojan Women in which exhausted ladies of war-ravaged houses contemplate a grisly future.  Bernadette Sullivan, Mary Goodchild,  Aisha Kabia, and Kalean Ung swim this 4×100-m hatred relay brilliantly and it is a good job that it was part of the restoration.   That anchor leg is a pipterino and further marks Ung as one to watch.

ISC is rightly proud of the number of people it reaches through the summer fest.  But, pursuing and serving that metric isn’t free.  The kit grows every season.  2016 features a large lighting rig courtesy of a foundation grant, more microphones, more speakers, a NASA-sized mixing board, ever fancier costumes, and stage fog.  Some of the tech does afford the leeway to cast actors with differing levels of vocal preparation but it grows farther from the no-frills aesthetic the company brought to LA back in 2002 and preserved until the past few seasons.  Most intrusive is the addition of a loud rock band that strikes up  to crush the magic the moment a scene ends.  The Duke of Buckingham pleads with King Richard, “Give me some little breath, some pause, dear lord.”  We know where he’s coming from but we too aren’t requited.  There’s no time to savor the words because a quartet of the play’s supporting cast occasionally supplemented by Melville shred the air with guitar and drum.   To be fair, most of the crowd ate it up.

ISC takes care to survey its audiences and perhaps this is what it has to do to keep people coming to the Old Zoo.  The festival audience could be of the growing belief that silence of any kind is not to be trusted.  Maybe we’ll see two distinct sets of offerings in the future: Old school ISC indoors at its studio and a flash-bang summer season for the Internet generation at Griffith Park.

The Tempest begins July 30th.

RICHARD III

Adapted by Independent Shakespeare Co. based on the work of Colley Cibber
Begins Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26 Then plays Wednesday – Sunday until July 24
Performances at 7:00 pm  at
The Old Zoo, Griffith Park

FREE (donations gratefully accepted)

http://iscla.org