When it comes to blood, gore and seriously nauseous mayhem, nobody beats the Bard. Cup-A-Jo Productions and Studio SixTHreeFouR re-imagine Shakespeare’s early play Titus Andronicus in a deceptively cozy outdoor space with live music and literally buckets of blood.
It’s difficult to see Titus as a true tragedy, given that the title character is a dick from the get-go. A ruthless and successful conqueror for ancient Rome, he is nonetheless self-effacing in refusing to seize Caesar’s power, thus engendering distrust among the elites. Equally dim as a patriarch, Titus sacrifices, kills and bad-mouths his scores of kids until there are only two left — both in deep doodoo (as a former U.S. president would have it).
Given the widely apportioned shares of arrogance, even among the victims, Titus doesn’t really have any truly sympathetic characters, and has so many nasty ones that there is considerable competition for the title of villain. The front-runner, master schemer Aaron the Moor (coolly played by Christopher S. Collier with a chilling sense of humor), both suffers and proves the racism around him. In a close second, the vengeful Tamora (Samantha A. Camp gone a-vamping), easily manipulates the evil but clueless emperor (the dependably stern Everett Lowe).
And our hero? Brett Sullivan Santry enjoyably chews the scenery as Titus descends into a madness that is more efficacious than his original sanity. Also notable are Connor McNelis and Andy Hickly as Tamora’s loathsome spawn; Jessie Wray Goodman as the beauteous, piteous Lavinia; and Bruce Story-Camp as a series of nice but quickly dead guys.
Cup-a-Jo founder Joanne Lowe directs her original adaptation with an eye toward contemporary relevance. Choreography by Liz Tripoli nicely bookends the tightly paced show. Kim Barry of Studio SixTHreeFouR, as both art director and executive producer, showcases her studio and her historic family home, built in 1896. Much applause for original jazz-oriented rock composed and conducted by Michael Kolczynski.
Written by a young Shakespeare for his bear-baiting-loving 16th-century audiences, Titus Andronicus is short on logic but long in stagecraft and action, and most amenable to its latest iteration.