Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare at Frog & Peach

The Frog & Peach is presenting an exciting and powerful production of one of Shakespeare’s least produced and most tragic plays. Under Lynnea Benson’s direction, the text is approachable and the acting graceful and clear. It is apparent that the cast is well-versed in Shakespearean performance – lucky for the audience! The tides of pride and revenge run strong from beginning to end, which makes for an engaging and energetic show to watch.

LEW-0349At the top, the great Roman General Titus Andronicus (Greg Mullavey) returns from The Goth Wars with prisoners in tote, the Goth Queen Tamora (Amy Frances Quint), her three sons, and Aaron the Moor (Phillip Gregory Burke). To avenge the bloodshed of his son, Titus orders that Tamora’s eldest (Matthew Velez) be killed in the town square despite her desperate pleas. Paired with the political unrest of Rome, this is Titus’ first mistake and the beginning of his demise. Prince Saturninus (Eric Doss) and his brother, Bassianus (Collin Blackard), are competing for the royal throne of Rome and Titus is chosen to decide who will rise. What’s shocking is when Saturninus is crowned king; he takes the exotic prisoner Queen Tamora as his wife. Granted she is his second choice; the beautiful and morally-sound daughter of Titus, Lavinia (Brittany Proia), was the first. When it becomes known that she is secretly in love with Bassianus, that is when Saturninus turns to Tamora. In this moment, you can feel the doom that lies ahead for Titus and Tamora’s families. Think of it, who has greater urgency than a grieving mother in power?

LEW-0256Tamora the Goth Queen has always been one of my favorite Shakespearean leading ladies and Quint undeniably nails this role. She is seductive, mysterious, and ruthlessly passionate in each action as she commits to destroying Titus and his family. The scene that the play is often known for is the torture of Lavinia. Tamora implores her seemingly savage sons (Jonathan Reed Wexler and Dan Kennett) to rape and mutilate the sweet Lavinia. I won’t tell you how Benson and costume designer Nina Vartanian artistically depict the mechanics of this scene since Shakespeare aficionados look forward to it in particular, but I will say that their choice was affective and haunting. Proia played this unimaginably difficult role sincerely; it left me disturbed and heart-broken. However, Titus and Lavinia’s aunt, Marta’s (Vivien Landau), reaction to the disfigured Lavinia struck me as odd. Instead of shrieking or crumbling in grief or rage, they held a composure and disarming sense of calm. Perhaps this was the director’s choice, but it felt incompatible with the level of Lavinia’s horrific physical and mental state.

The detached behavior of Titus that I just mentioned made perfect sense in later scenes when he was setting up Tamora by pretending to be mad. Believing that she is the one who is on top, her guard is down and he lures her over for a feast of all feasts that is only suited for the greatest of enemies. King Saturninus and Tamora dine on delicacies to later discover their paralyzing ingredients. The ping-pong of revenge between Titus and Tamora was captivating and accessible to Shakespeare gurus and everyone else alike. Happy 20th Season Frog & Peach!

Photos by Lee Wexler/ImagesForInnovation
Opening – Greg Mullavey
2. Greg Mullavey and Brittany Proia
3. Dan Kennett, Phillip Gregory Burke & Jonathan Reed Wexler

Titus Andronicus
The West End Theatre
263 West 86th Street
Presented by the Frog & Peach Theatre Company
Through November 2, 2014