Friday, October 14, 2011

Titus Androncus: Halloween Shakespeare. Brace Yourselves.

*Caution: Squeamish Alert*  If you are, you shouldn't. Watch the clip, I mean.

So. The Shakespeare Festival. Sounds like someplace you'd go to be elevated. To be set adrift on a river of Renaissance revelry. To immerse yourself in the language, ambiance, and romance of that which makes us love the Bard. Yes?

And then there's Titus Andronicus--The most bloody, gruesome, violent, barbaric, and horrifying of all of Shakespeare's plays, and his most popular in his day. It's a script that is unabashed in it's debauchery. So much so that very few in modern times have attempted to stage it. Too hard on the audience. Too hard on the actors. To much criticism to set yourself up for as a director.

Enter American Fork High School and the State Shakespeare Competition.

The drama teacher at this school doesn't shy away from difficult questions or themes. And he has a brilliant eye for the big picture. So naturally, he decided to do a condensed version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus for the Ensemble division of the competition this year. With kids ranging in age from 15 to 18. And pulling no punches with the subject matter.

His scene won.

Do you want to see why? Aside from them being stinking amazing? Instead of stepping around the violence, the director chose to portray it all as a sort of Cirque du Freak, using garish characters and colors and extreme costuming and special effects (well, stage effects with makeup and sets, anyway). The result was that instead of just feeling bludgeoned by a blood-fest, I came away with a clear picture of what happens when anger and revenge take over in one's mind. What extremes it can go to. And that our world really really needs to check itself. Even my daughter, who is extremely visual and sensitive, came away from this amazed, thoughtful, and astonished. "Mercy is nobility's true badge."

So. Here's the clip. Be aware that there are depictions of stabbings, dismemberment, forced cannibalism, and rape (which happens off stage)--all of which are in Shakespeare's script. Also be aware that this clip will likely not offer the same impact that this scene had live--partly because of audio and distance issues--but I hope you'll get the idea that I think the director and Mr. Shakespeare were trying to get across. I hope it isn't offensive to anyone, as I don't think it was done simply for the shock value. I'd be interested in your thoughts. And I'm a little nervous. :)

A brief synopsis of what you'll be seeing (and this is with a LOT of the violent plot removed): Titus Andronicus returns to Rome victorious over the Goths. He has the Queen of the Goths, Tamora, and her three sons as prisoners. We meet his daughter Lavinia, whom he loves. Titus declines the throne of Rome, offering it to his son Saturninus. Then, despite Tamora's pleas, Titus sacrifices her eldest son to avenge his sons' deaths during the war. Saturninus, who has denounced the Andronicus family, shocks Titus by marrying Tamora. Tamora exacts revenge on Titus by setting her remaining sons on Lavinia. They rape her, then to prevent her telling anyone, cut off her hands and tongue (yeah. sick, bad, and wrong.) Titus goes nuts, captures Tamora's sons, and kills them himself. Then he uses their blood and bones to make a pasty (pie), that he will feed to Tamora at a feast. At the feast Titus shows to what depths he has lost it by breaking his daughter's neck, so neither she nor he will suffer any more. Then he tells Tamora that she's eating her sons, force-feeds her, and everyone kills everyone, and it ends.

Hmmm. Sounds like a bloodbath. I remember it being horrifying and cool and awful and wow, in sort of a Heath Ledger/Dark Knight kind of way. But maybe I'm warped. Which is weird, because I'm so not. Anyway. Brace yourselves. Here it is:

Happy Halloween!


William Kendall said...

Titus Andronicus: just the sort of thing for a light summer's afternoon entertainment.

I've seen it staged... and it's definitely not for everyone's taste. Pun intended.

And oddly enough... taste is the captcha for this comment!

Shelly said...

Hey, wanted you guys to know that Russo's Horrible Day post isn't coming up. Well, at least, not on my computer. It's saying your page cannot be found. However, I was able to read it through the Google Reader.

I hope I didn't add to Russo's horrible day.

Janiel Miller said...

Shelly - Thanks for the heads up! However, the only Horrible Day post I can find for Russo is one that is scheduled to come up on Wednesday called Russo's Horrid Day. If that's the one, you shouldn't be able to read it because it isn't posted yet. Unless Russo accidentally published it for a moment and then unpublished it, and you happened to catch it when it was up. And the reader remembered it. That may have happened and would explain why you can't bring it up on your computer.

Did it contain a picture of a cat and a broken plate?

It's a mystery . . . .

Russo said...

I'm so glad you added this piece, so inventive and cool. I'm impressed that high school students could handle Titus Andronicus. I still can't handle that piece of work :)

PS- I love the way the clip is paused, it looks like a freaky lil picture. LOVE it.