Take out the words, and it turns out you can make Shakespeare’s most violent play even more brutal and terrifying.
With Titus Andronicus, Synetic Theater has created a vicious, disturbing world with no heroes — and plenty of blood. This isn’t surprising: after all, Titus, at its heart, is a story of revenge against unspeakable acts that are only eclipsed by the title character’s epic notion of payback.
The action is set against a cavernous backdrop, and composer Konstantie Lortkipanidze’s score evokes a continuous atmosphere of dread. Rome is in shambles and under new leadership after warring between the Romans and the Goths. When Lavinia (Irina Kavsadze) witnesses the duplicitous queen Tamora (Irina Tsikurishvilli, having a ball) being unfaithful to the hapless king Saturninus (Dan Istrate), the queen sends her son’s henchmen after Lavina — they kill her husband and brutally rape and maim Lavinia, cutting off her hands and removing her tongue. The scene is staged by choreographer Tsikurishvili to be haunting but not gratuitous: much of the violence is hinted at with flying articles of clothing and red streamers to represent blood. But the suggestions are chilling, and Alex Mills and Dallas Tolentino are frightening in their gleeful bloodlust.
The play is named for Titus (Philip Fletcher), general and father to Lavina, because he’s the one to avenge the crime, and he does so with gruesome, theatrical flair — Shakespeare, of course, was baking men into pies (in this case, Tamora’s sons) long before the days of Sweeney Todd. Fletcher convincingly demonstrates Titus’ rapid descent into madness, and it’s strangely satisfying to watch the delicate Kavsadze transform from pitiable victim to deranged crusader for justice. The scene where the pair gleefully feeds the pies to the king and queen is initially played for (strangely welcome) comic relief, but climaxes in an impressively grisly visual.
closes May 27, 2018
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Fight choreography throughout Titus, courtesy of assistant director Vato Tsikurishvili, is consistently impressive, and Synetic brings a sense of urgency to scenes of running and horseback-riding. There are more machinations to the plot than these savage highlights, but sans dialogue, the complications of Titus Andronicus have the potential to get lost in translation in this silent production if one is unfamiliar with the story. (Why is the new leader of Rome being seemingly arbitrarily chosen by Titus? What is the point of Titus cutting off his own hand as well?).
But Synetic, focusing more on the emotional impact than the plot intricacies, captures the ghastly spirit of the story, making the play dazzlingly effective as a blunt instrument of horror.
Titus Andronicus. Adapted by Emily Whitworth from the play by William Shakespeare . Director: Paata Tsikurishvili. Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili. Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze. Scenic Dsigner: Phil Chartwood. Lighting Designer: Brian S. Allard. Costume Designer: Erik Teague. Sound Designer: Thomas Sowers. Assistant Director and Fight Choreographer: Vato Tsikurishvili. With Philip Fletcher, Irina Tsikurishvili, Irina Kavsadze, Audrey Tchoukoua, Dallas Tolentino, Alex Mills, Dan Istrate, Tori Bertocci, Chris Galindo, Scott Whalen, Matt Stover, Suzy Alden, Megan Khaziran, Nutsa Tediashvili. Produced by Synetic Theater . Reviewed by Missy Frederick.