Performing arts ~ Titus Andronicus ~ Burbage Theatre Company ~ Providence

Burbage Theatre Company
resident theatre company of Aurora
276 Westminster St.
Providence, Rhode Island

I saw Titus Andronicus at Aurora last week. It was my first experience with Burbage Theatre Company, and with the play.

It turns out Titus Andronicus one of Shakespeare's least popular plays. It's brutally violent, which was all the rage at the time it was written, but that type of violence fell out of favor not long after. As Jeff Church, Burbage's artistic director explained, it was Shakespeare's "Tarantino phase."

Burbage didn't tone down or "nice up" the violence. The front row seats were provided with trash bag aprons. They're in the 'splatter zone.'

Titus Andronicus centers on hate. As Titus returns to Rome, victorious in a ten-year campaign against the Goths, and bringing their queen and three of her sons as hostages, he learns Caesar has died. Titus turns down the job when it's offered, and sacrifices one of the captive queen's sons as revenge for his own sons' deaths. Now the queen of the Goths swears revenge against Titus and his family. The rest of the story follows a brutal series of one-upsmanships among the two families.

In Burbage's version, Titus is cast as a woman (Rae Mancini), which lends a different angle to the play. Rather than a Roman man taking on a barbarian woman, we have two mothers, both powerful warriors, both accustomed to, but unaccepting of, loss. Both believing in the "rightness" of revenge. The Goth queen Tamora, as played by Christin Goff, is every bit a match for Titus. On stage together, the two are electric. These are very different women, each bent on destroying the other.

From the beginning we see the two sides' reasons to hate each other. Years of war, death, and the other's "other-ness" feeds it. But it's more than just a war-fed hate. There's offhanded misogyny where women are treated as exchangeable property. There's vicious misogyny, as Tamora's sons brutalize Lavinia, Titus' daughter. (Allison Crews as Lavinia will break your heart).

There's also an accepted cultural racism. According to Tamora's sons, Aaron, a black man who is Tamora's lover, is black because he's evil. And because this is Shakespeare, of course Aaron is evil. He's black. Which means it's not just easy for the characters to be violent with him: it's a moral imperative.

Titus Andronicus isn't for the faint of heart. But it's a powerful play that brings a focus on where everyday, socially acceptable violence and hatred can lead.



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