Cromulent Shakespeare Company Titus Andronicus
Set in blood-soaked Rome, Titus Andronicus follows its titular character, a general recently returned from war against the Goths, on the path to ruin and then revenge. A couple of poor choices - refusing the crown and instead giving it to ambitious and cold-hearted Saturninus, and sacrificing the son of one of the captured Goths to appease the Roman gods - leads to ugly deaths and dismemberments for his family and friends. Titus spends the first half trapped in the plots and the second plotting his own revenge, which ends with a bit right out of Ovid (or, for more modern audiences, Sweeney Todd).
To keep the modern analogies going, Titus is pretty much Shakespeare's Grindhouse - a bloody tale packed with gruesome energy that doesn't make a lot of sense under any kind of inspection. Director Paul von Stoetzel wisely keeps the momentum moving forward with a Spartan production that focuses our attention on the events of the story instead of what's going on inside the characters. It's a superficial approach that works okay with the play (the complexities seen in Shakespeare's later tragedies is largely absent), but makes for a rather dull reading of the work. It doesn't help that most of the large cast struggles to keep the language clear, let alone actually craft characters.
There are a couple of exceptions. Charles Hubbell leads with a solid interpretation of Titus, moving the character from a sense of duty done at the beginning through the torments and then into revengeful madness by the end. Derek Washington also stands out as the self-proclaimed black-hearted Moor who sits at the center of all the intrigues.
The production stays fairly simple on Bedlam Theatre's small playing area, but there are moments of gore that may be difficult for the squeamish to handle. The show itself doesn't leave much, er, food for thought except to note that audiences loved this play in the 1590s, the same way moviegoers flock to blood-soaked works like Saw. In that, I guess we haven't changed much at all.
Titus Andronicus runs through February 2 at the Bedlam Theatre, 1501 S. 6th St., Minneapolis. Tickets are $12 and $15. For more information, call 612-338-9817 or visit www.cronulentshakespeare.org.