voices found infuses ‘titus andronicus’ with fury
By Marilyn Jozwik
Published Oct. 2, 2018
While people today might watch with horror the uncivility that runs rampant on social media, it would have been a far less brutal tool to use for revenge in the days of “Titus Andronicus.”
Shakespeare’s most bloody play is being presented by Voices Found Repertory. Its dedicated cast infuses the show with passion and intensity, as characters boil into fits of rage and violence. Their anger at atrocities done to family is so intense it consumes them. It is like a modern-day “Godfather,” using knives and swords instead of today’s weapons to defend family. VFR makes no attempt to sanitize the show, graphically depicting the savagery that seems like it should be relegated to the jungle. As Titus says, “Tigers must prey.”
Characters in the show appear in modern garb – leggings, jeans, tunics, etc. – in mostly in neutral tones. The simple set features white walls and blood-red accents with cut-out squares to place urns, and few props. In Act II, the walls are covered with plastic with Titus painting in red his desire for revenge and maintain family honor.
“Titus Andronicus” is all about lust and revenge and the horrible ways it was exacted upon anyone perceived as an enemy, including a family member. In the VFR show, several male characters are played by women, and played very effectively.
Titus (Maya Danks) starts the trail of blood when he has a son of Tamora (Robin Lewis), Queen of the Goths, killed to avenge the death of his own sons in the war with the Goths. Titus, returning from his 10-year battle with the Goths, had been selected to succeed his dead brother to the throne. Instead, he goes with the people’s choice and the dead emperor’s son, Saturninus (Kyle Conner).
Tamora is bent on revenge for the death of her son at the hands of Titus and things get really complicated when she marries Saturninus. The beautiful Lavinia (Alexis Furseth), Titus’s daughter, was Saturninus’s first choice, but his brother Bassianus (Robert Torres) has claimed her. There’s more fighting and death as this scenario plays out, including the death of Bassianus and the rape of Lavinia by Tamora’s sons, Demetrius and Chiron (Thomas Sebald and Donald Kozinski), who cut out Lavinia’s tongue and cut off her hands to keep her from exposing them.
By this point you can see that there is no bar too high for barbarism in the game of revenge. Aaron (Brittany Faye Byrnes), a Moor and lover of Tamora, writes a letter framing Titus’s son, Quintus, for the murder of Bassianus. Aaron lies and tells Titus that Emperor Saturninus will spare his son if he cuts off his hand and sends it to him. Instead, Titus’s hand is returned to him, along with his son’s head.
The “eye for an eye” adage continues, and more. There’s Tamora’s illegitimate child by Aaron – who kills the nurse. There’s the death of Lavinia after Saturninus tells Titus a woman raped should be killed, and the final revenge – a banquet featuring the remains of Tamora’s sons baked in a pie (and unwittingly eaten by Tamora and Saturninus) with a round of murders as after-dinner entertainment.
VFR has inserted women into male roles in one of Shakespeare’s most cutthroat plays and the result is most impressive. These women are totally up to the challenge and, in a practical sense, make it easier to not confuse characters in the usually male-dominated cast.
As Titus, Danks uses her length to give her a physical appearance of power, but her acting tools are equally impressive. Her character is a tower of strength, seething and glowering at the wrongs done to Titus’s family. Danks acts with her whole body as rage takes over reasoning.
Byrnes takes on the role of Aaron the Moor with total commitment to the character caught in the deadly Andronici family web of revenge. Fiery and passionate, Byrnes has no trouble with the traditionally male role.
Conner presents his Saturninus with dash and arrogance, his character matching the high-level intensity the show strives for, as does Teddi Jules Gardener’s Lucius, son of Titus. Conner pairs nicely with Lewis as the conniving queen, Tamora.
Furseth’s is one of the few sympathetic characters and she wrings lots of emotion out of her performance. Her Lavinia is truly broken, whimpering and bent like an injured animal.
Besides directing the show, Hannah Kubiak also stepped into the role of Quintus, Titus’s son, for the Saturday performance we saw, while Jessica Trznadel took another male role, that of Titus’s brother, Marcus, and handled it well.
As the fight choreographer, Alec Lachman helped create several realistic scenes of sword and knife play, serving to heighten the drama.
If you go
Who: Voices Found Repertory
What: “Titus Andronicus”
When: Through Oct. 7
Where: The Arcade Theatre (at the Underground Collaborative), 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee