Arts & Life, Theatre

Theatre review: Titus Andronicus

This is a student production. Whatever your expectations are of Shakespeare, be sure to arrive knowing these are young actors (both in craft and age) tackling a play that’s technically and emotionally out of their kill zone.

Within that context, Titus Andronicus is certainly worth seeing. Never staged before in Winnipeg, the murderous intrigue between a retired Roman general and a Goth queen is Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, and Black Hole follows through with great gouts of stage blood. (An audience member dabbed her finger to taste a pool on the floor during intermission. It’s mint flavoured, she said. I didn’t confirm.)  The gore and mutilations combine with an emotionally exhausting story to make Titus incredibly difficult to stage effectively.

A few moments in this production are up to the task. When Tasha Roth (probably the best company member when it comes to Shakespearean text) enters as Marta to find her niece horribly mangled after a vicious assault, one of the most affecting scenes follows. Audience members were crying if they weren’t gagging in horror. Very nice.

The final image also strikes a strong chord, as onlookers view the play’s climactic carnage. It brings to mind so many news reports – Ottawa most freshly – of terror interrupting the trite, of our varied, inadequate responses to horror.

One of those responses can be laughter and often, rather than serve Titus’ tragedy straight, directors Chris Johnson and Bill Kerr send their cast after dark, devious laughs. It’s interesting, if frequently forced. Another interesting choice: casting a puckish, Caucasian Nick Petuhoff as Aaron the Moor. The directors’ notes state it’s a move designed to “provoke thought concerning issues of sexualized and racialized violence raised by the play.” I think those issues come through loud and clear without a white actor going on about his black skin, shifting attention onto the production rather than the story, but, again, interesting…

Go if you want to see an experiment. That’s what university is for, right?

Aaron the... Moor?

Titus Andronicus

By William Shakespeare

The Black Hole Theatre Company

Through Nov 29

Directed by Chris Johnson and Bill Kerr; with Ian Bastin, Lindsay Bodnar, Abbas Butt, Jared Button, Kai Chochinov, Mitchell Condon, Julia Florek, Miriam Fristensky, Augustin Gandara, Keira Garagan, Rebecca Gossel, Nicholas Groulx, Robyn Hasselstrom, Kendra Hiebert, Reena Jolly, Cassidy Long, Jordan Mollot, Tara Noel, Brendan Noyes, Nick Petuhoff, Brooke Pluta, Kevin Ramberran, Tasha Roth, Mia Selva, Logan Stefanson, Lemeng Yang and Jeremy Zloty; set and costume design by Karen Schellenberg; lighting design by Laurie MacDonell; sound design by Jayse Meyer; fight choreography by Andrew Cecon; stage management by Ryan Bjornson; assistant stage management by Katie Baschak.