Titus Redux: A modern well-done redo of Titus Andronicus
By Cynthia Citron
CULVER CITY, California–Ever since I saw him play the title role in More Lies About Jerzy I have been a confirmed Jack Stehlin groupie. I’d go to see him in anything. But in the case of John Farmanesh-Bocca’s new play, Titus Redux, that’s a little more arduous than it might seem.
A two-hour do-over of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the play, conceived, choreographed, and directed by Farmanesh-Bocca, retains the spectacular highlights of Shakespeare’s most gruesome drama: war, murder, incest, rape, dismemberment, beheading, and cannibalism. (But at least the blood and gore remains all over the characters, rather than all over the stage, as it was in the recent production of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore).
In this production, now having its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Titus is a heavily medaled war hero returning from Afghanistan with the ashes of his dead warrior son. Having been gone for 10 years (shades of Odysseus!), he is returning to the bosom of his family: his wife Tamora (the Queen of the Goths in Shakespeare’s version) and his two remaining sons, Chiron and Demetrius, and his daughter Lavinia. He and they, as one might expect, have differing views of war: Titus seeing it as noble and heroic, Tamora declaiming its futility.
As Titus is plagued by war flashbacks arrestingly projected on an immense screen, we watch him disintegrate into madness. We are introduced to Aaron, his wife’s lover (a Moor in Shakespeare’s version, but played by Farmanesh-Bocca here), and to Marcus Andronicus, a tribune of Rome and Titus’ brother.
There is a modicum of Shakespearean language, but more often the players speak in twenty-first century vernacular as the present replicates the ancient past. In switching back and forth in time the play is enhanced by its striking special effects, stirring music, and spectacular choreography. The company, which features actors from Farmanesh-Bocca’s Not Man Apart-Physical Theatre Ensemble, move their bodies so expressively that they could almost present the play without words. In the scene where the two would-be rapists chase Lavinia, for example, the three players perform leaps and falls and rollovers so filled with tension that they make the actual rape appear almost an afterthought.
There are also extraordinarily choreographed, almost robotic war scenes, with Titus and two fellow soldiers moving in tandem to the sound of gunfire. In fact, the overall mounting of this production is incredibly fine. Among the best I’ve seen.
The cast is uniformly excellent, including Brenda Strong as Tamora, Margeaux London as Lavinia, Dash Pepin and Vincent Cardinale as Titus’ sons Demetrius and Chiron, and Nicholas Hormann as Titus’ brother, Marcus Andronicus.
And then, of course, there’s the amazing Jack Stehlin, who emotes and throws himself around the stage for two hours and never breaks a sweat! At the end of the day, I’m still a fascinated fan and will run to see anything that he and his Circus Theatricals company choose to produce.
Titus Redux will be presented at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 through September 12th. Call 877-369-9112 for tickets. But better hurry—there are only 14 performances scheduled.
Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World