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The Raleigh, NC-based Bare Theatre Company’s youth-theater production of William Shakespeare’s early, ultra-bloody revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus — which was presented July 27-31 at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC — was a remarkable accomplishment. Director Carmen-maria Mandley pulled no punches in staging this bloodbath, set in ancient Rome at the time of the Caesars; and she coached powerful performances from the theater’s Rogue Company of youthful performers, aged 12-22. The show was ghastly, ghoulish, and great fun for those with stomachs stout enough to tolerate the succession of brutal murders and a rape, with arms and legs lopped off, tongues ripped out, etc.
Whether working with youthful or adult performers, Carmen-maria Mandley is one of the Triangle’s most imaginative and resourceful directors. She used every inch of the intimate Common Ground Theatre stage to great effect in staging Titus Andronicus.
Tall, thin, and wiry, with a shaven head a la Count Orlock in the silent horror film Nosfertu (1922), Jesse Gephart is impressive — if a bit creepy looking — as the emotionally volatile Roman general Titus Andronicus, who passionately loves his country and newly crowned Emperor Saturninus (Sam Mohar). Mohar was marvelously menacing as the jealous and vindictive emperor; but Anna Gettles was not nearly as scary as Tamora, queen of the Goths, whom became Titus’ mortal enemy after the general had her eldest son executed to celebrate his return to Rome after his conquest of the Goths.
Laura Jernigan was dynamic as Titus’ brother Marcus, an outspoken Roman tribune; Adam Patterson added a fiery portrayal of Titus’ banished son Lucius, who rallies the expatriate opposition to Emperor Saturninus; and Claire Wagner was sweet as Titus’ poor doomed daughter Lavinia, whose rape and mutilation by Tamora’s vicious sons Chiron and Demetrius (Brant Miller and Kat Randle) sets off yet another cycle of revenge.
But African-American actor Elijah Vick stole the show with his wonderfully wicked performance as Aaron the Moor. A villain’s villain, Aaron cuckolds Emperor Saturninus and orchestrates all kinds of murder and mayhem at the request of his main squeeze, Empress Tamora. Vick may well have the brightest future of all the rising stars on display in Titus Andronicus.
Bare Theatre Company: http://www.baretheatre.org/. Common Ground Theatre: http://www.cgtheatre.com/. Shakespeare Resources (University of Virginia): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (First Folio, 1623, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaTitF.html. E-Text (Globe Edition, 1866, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTitu.html.
The Rogue Company — the youth division — of Raleigh, NC-based Bare Theatre Company will present Titus Andronicus, an early and very bloody revenge tragedy by celebrated English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616), July 27-31 at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC. Bare Theatre co-founder Carmen-maria Mandley will direct 19 performers, aged 11-21, as they tackle this gory drama about power-hungry and revenge-mad ancient Romans who try to hack their way to the top, thereby setting off a horrifying cycle of bloody vengeance.
First performed in 1593-94, Titus Andronicus is widely regarded as Shakespeare’s first full-length tragedy. Bare Theatre Company director Carmen-maria Mandley emphasizes that this bloodbath, which culminates in a cannibalistic feast, is “not for children 10 and under.”
“Titus is William Shakespeare’s bloodiest tale,” claims Mandley. “It covers all — politics, revenge, love, and family. I love this play for so many reasons. The number of violent things that an audience can stand today — versus when this play was originally produced — and what this play has to offer the players. These people. What they do. To each other. To themselves. To their families. To their Empire. It’s astounding.”
Mandley notes, “This is my first time working on this play. I am so glad for it. It was actually a teen’s idea — Lucius Robinson’s to be exact. This show, in the hands of young people, is an adventure I never imagined.
“Bare Theatre’s Rogue Company [is] made up of young people aged 15-21, with one 11 year old to play the role of Young Lucius,” Mandley explains. “Keeping with Bare’s mission statement, the play takes place with only two small platforms. Highly athletic and acrobatic in nature, this play focuses on text, relationships, and physicality.”
When the curtain rises, Mandley says, “The Roman general Titus Andronicus (Jesse Gephart) returns to a hero’s welcome after defeating the Goths in a 10-year campaign. Among his captives are the queen of the Goths, Tamora (Anna Gettles), and her three sons, Alarbus (Lucinda Harris), Demetrius (Kat Randle), and Chiron (Brant Miller). Also accompanying her is her lover Aaron (Elijah Vick), a Moor. Titus has lost five and 20 sons in the war.
“To give them a fitting funeral,” Mandley says, “Lucius (Adam Patterson), one of Titus’s three surviving sons, suggests a human sacrifice. It must be Alarbus, Tamora’s eldest son. Lucius seizes Alarbus; and he and his men hew his limbs and make a sacrifice of him.
“The emperor dies and the palliament [i.e., the emperor’s robe] is available,” Mandley says, “When it is offered to Titus by his brother Marcus (Laura Jernigan), he declines and recommends Saturninus (Sam Mohar), the oldest son of the dead emperor. Saturninus takes [Titus’] beautiful daughter Lavinia (Claire Wagner) as his wife and empress.
“After Saturninus is crowned,” Mandley says, “he frees Tamora and her sons. Bassianus (Jarrod Swart), Saturninus’ brother, objects to the proposed marriage of Saturninus and Lavinia, because Lavinia is already betrothed to him. With the help of Lavinia’s brothers Martius (Stephanie Rahl), Quintus (Alex Davis), and Mutius (Ashley Isenhower), he steals her away. Titus is angered and he kills his son Mutius when he tries to prevent Titus from chasing them. Later, Saturninus decides to marry Tamora and make her empress.
“Demetrius and Chiron have both fallen in love with Lavinia,” Mandley says, “and they quarrel over her. Each claims the right to take her from Bassianus. After failing to dissuade them from pursuing her, Aaron suggests that they share the lovely Lavinia by taking turns raping her in the seclusion of a forest. The occasion will come during a hunt in the woods for game. Emperor Saturninus, Queen Tamora, and many others are to take part in the hunt. On the day of the hunt, Aaron and Tamora rendezvous in the woods. Aaron gives her a letter to present to Saturninus. Its contents will aid Tamora’s desire to bring down Titus.
“When Bassianus and Lavinia discover Aaron and Tamora together,” Mandley says, “Tamora fears that the intruders will tell the emperor. When her sons arrive, Tamora pretends Bassianus has threatened her. The sons kill Bassianus and throw him in a pit, then drag Lavinia off to rape her.
“Not only do they rape her,” Mandley says, “they also mutilate her, cutting off her hands and tearing out her tongue. Aaron leads Titus’s sons Quintus and Martius toward the pit where Bassianus lies dead. Martius falls in. While Aaron goes to fetch Saturninus, Quintus falls in, too, trying to rescue Martius. Saturninus arrives with Aaron. With them are Titus, Lucius, and attendants. Martius, who has discovered the body, informs Saturninus that his brother, Bassianus, is dead. Tamora then presents Aaron’s letter to Saturninus. It falsely implicates Martius and Quintus in the murder of Bassianus.
“Saturninus imprisons them,” Mandley says, “and the court later sentences them to death in spite of Titus’ pleas on their behalf. Lavinia cannot testify in their favor, for she has no tongue. When Titus, Lucius, and Titus’s brother Marcus discuss their options, Aaron arrives and tells them that Saturninus will free the sons of Titus if Marcus, Lucius, or Titus cuts off his hand and sends it to the emperor. It is Titus, though, who allows Aaron to cut off his hand and take it to Saturninus. Within a half hour, however, the emperor returns the hand, together with the heads of Titus’ imprisoned sons, in a show of scorn and contempt. Titus orders his son Lucius to flee the city and enlist an army of Goths to overthrow Saturninus. Then Lavinia informs Titus and young Lucius (Owen Day Jones) about her rape and mutilation by writing in sand with a stick held in her mouth.
“Meanwhile, Tamora has a baby,” Mandley says, “It is obviously Aaron’s because it has the dark complexion of a Moor. Worried that the emperor will find out about it, Tamora wants it killed. Aaron has other plans. First, he kills the baby’s midwife and nurse to keep secret the baby’s existence. Next, he substitutes a white baby for his own, then leaves with his child to go to the Goths to have them raise it.
“By this time, Lucius is marching on Rome with his army of Goths,” Mandley says. “Aaron and his baby, who have been captured, appear. Aaron agrees to tell all he knows if his child is allowed to live. Titus cuts the throats of Tamora’s sons Demetrius and Chiron, then has a pie prepared of their flesh and serves it to Saturninus and Tamora. He kills Lavinia, then kills Tamora. Saturninus kills Titus in retaliation, and Lucius kills Saturninus. Lucius takes command of Rome as the new emperor. Lucius orders Aaron to be buried up to his chest and starved to death.”
Other ensemble members (not mentioned above) include Marcie Darymple, Austin Krieger, Joe Kirlauski, and Kevin Selig. All ensemble members will double as Chorus.”
In addition to director Carmen-maria Mandley, the show’s creative team includes associate director Heather J. Hackford, set designer and lighting designer and stage manager Asher Robinson, Costume designer: Jeremy Clos, fight director Jeff A. R. Jones, composer G. Todd Buker, and dramaturg Craig Payst.
Mandley says the main challenge in staging Titus at the Common Ground Theatre is fitting “19 people in a very small space.” She adds, “In a lot of scenes, all of them on stage at the same time.”
Bare Theatre’s Rogue Company presents Titus Andronicus Wednesday-Saturday, July 27-30, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 31, at 2 p.m. at the Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $10 ($5 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel). 919/771-3281. Bare Theatre Company: http://www.baretheatre.org/. Shakespeare Resources (University of Virginia): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (First Folio, 1623, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaTitF.html. E-Text (Globe Edition, 1866, via UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTitu.html.