“Titus Andronicus” is not a play for children. The play’s plot relies on rape, murder, cannibalism and many other atrocities not fit for a child’s eyes. Yet, at the center of the play is a child — Lucia. A girl who cannot choose to leave the theater.
“Titus Andronicus” is presented by the UI Theatre Arts Department at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2-4 and 9-11 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 5 and 12 at the Hartung Theatre.
For much of the play, Lucia is in the background, mostly unnoticed except in the opening and again at the end, when she stands shivering in the center of the stage surrounded by death.
Director Matthew Brumlow leaves the audience with questions: What effects do adults have on children? What are the effects of such violence at a young age?
This is the beauty of Brumlow’s adaptation, and ultimately what sets the production apart from other interpretations.
However, as the adults primarily ignore Lucia, it is difficult for the audience to do so. As the story revolves around the cyclical revenge of three factions, Lucia stands out as the young girl who is forced to live in a world of hate and violence.
“Sit back and relax, or better yet, lean forward and enjoy,” said actor Skye Carlson to the audience before the blood-bath began.
It is difficult to enjoy such a gruesome display of human impassioned fear and retaliatory action, but the play holds a truth that few dare to touch.
Revenge sets the plot off, beginning with a single crack. The crack then spreads, creating a web of fissures until everything falls apart and a new, broken generation takes over. Both figuratively and literally, the stage the night of Feb. 4 was covered in cracks as “Titus” seized the floor.
Electronic dance music and swirling lights were unexpected, but effective choices for the beginning war scene. It merged the old animalistic world with the new animalistic world, tying current events to the abominations of the play. This again set Brumlow’s depiction apart from the play’s more traditional productions.
However, most of the music, lighting and set design were predictable. Skulls hung from the ceiling and a red glow sometimes emanated from the bones holding the set up. Dark, epic and almost tribal, the design brought the viewer into a barbaric world with few redeeming qualities other than sheer, destructive beauty.
The plot is standard. Titus kills the son of Tamara who takes revenge, spurring further action from Titus and escalating horrors.
One disappointment for the strong-stomached and a relief for the squeamish is the lack of realistic gore. Tamara’s son’s innards are displayed on a platter within the first few minutes of the play. Though these look fake, it is neither distracting nor annoying. The audience is after all just becoming accustomed to the horrific world they are entering.
However, further in the play, when Titus’ daughter Lavinia’s hands are cut off, her ‘stumps’ appear to have knuckles and are perpetually blood-red, which is distracting.
This is easily forgiven as the worst sin committed. The story, design and ultimate lesson far outweigh missing realistic stumps.
As the adults’ ‘play’ ends and the world goes dark, Lucia stands in the center, shivering. The violence is over, but the earth is still shattered beneath her feet.
The play is overall a memorable and worthwhile production that asks questions other productions do not.
Nina Rydalch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NinaRobin7