Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Titus Andronicus, Jr.
Off-Strip Productions
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Mary's review of Kiss Me, Kate


Gary Easton, Maxwell Claydon, Noa Agatstein, Ken Haley, Will Haley, and Cash Freeman
Photo by Ginger Bruner
Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare's most gruesome play. For good reasons, you are not likely to see it at your local summer Shakespeare festival. If anything, it invites over-the-top treatment simply because, if played straight, it is an unrelenting gorefest with few characters deserving of audience sympathy. All of which makes it perfect fodder for fringe theatre treatment.

And that is exactly what it receives in Titus Andronicus, Jr., an original play staged by Off-Strip Productions at the Onyx Theatre. Written and directed by Troy Heard, this dark comedy condenses Shakespeare's five acts into a single hour of playing time, and frames it as a play-within-a-play performed by, yes, middle school students.

The conceit begins as you enter the theatre, where you are greeted with "Welcome to Dawson Middle School" (The Home of the Sand Gnats) and handed a program for Dawson's "Spring Play 2016," the decidedly inappropriate-for-children Titus Andronicus. Depressed art teacher Mr. Benjamin, the play's director and adapter, soon appears and introduces his play. When the young actors take the stage, Mr. Benjamin takes his place on the apron to provide unsettling mood music on his electric guitar.

Unfortunately, things have not been going well for Mr. Benjamin, who informs us from the start that he is in the midst of a contentious divorce. Coincidentally—or not—his wife has the same first name as one of the play's leading characters—Tamora, the evil and manipulative queen of the Goths.

Throughout the evening, the sincere efforts of the middle school actors (played with gusto by real youngsters ages 12-16) are interrupted constantly by Mr. Benjamin's increasingly heated cell phone conversations with his wife (or sometimes her voicemail). Also, Mr. Benjamin's adaptation includes some expletive-filled diatribes—typically used in reference to Tamora—which the students begin to suspect are not part of Shakespeare's original script. As the underlying play approaches its climax, Mr. Benjamin's behavior becomes more and more disturbing. The evening, it is clear, will not end well.

If you are in the mood for some edgy, fringey fun, Titus Andronicus, Jr. will fill the bill. As the angry and bitter Mr. Benjamin, Thomas Chrastka (uncredited in the ersatz middle school program) convincingly captures the angst of a man in mid-life crisis. Under Troy Heard's capable direction, the young cast members perform their roles sincerely, heightening the contrast between the innocence of youth and the betrayals of adulthood.

After completing its Las Vegas run, Titus Andronicus, Jr. moves on to the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June. Go slay 'em, Sand Gnats!

Titus Andronicus, Jr. continues through May 28, 2016, (Thursday - Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday, May 22 at 5 pm) at the Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89104. For tickets ($20 general admission) or further information, go to www.onyxtheatre.com or call 702-732-7225.

Cast

Mr. Benjamin: Thomas Chrastka
Titus Andronicus: Ken Haley
Saturninus: Gary Easton
Tamora: Noa Agatstein
Marcus: Joshua Smithline
Lavinia: Joelie Mountain
Aaron: Maxwell Claydon
Bassianus/Quintus/Messenger: Cash Freeman
Mutius/Demetrius: Ashlee Grubbs
Lucius/Chiron: Will Haley

Additional creative: Costumes credited to "Mrs. Claydon."


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