Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
Review by Catherine Siggins, for Brits in LA
|Catherine Siggins - Brits in LA resident theatre critic|
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|Marie Françoise Theodore and Michael McFall|
Photo by Miriam Geer
As part of the Summer Repertory Season, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum are staging Shakespeare’s tragedy Titus Andronicus. General Titus Andronicus (Sheridan Crist), returns to Rome with his captives, Queen Tamora (Marie Francoise Theodore), her three sons (Nima Jafari, Kelvin Morales, Miebaka Yohannes), and her Moorish lover Aaron (Michael McFall), after a 10 year war against the Goths. He mercilessly demands the sacrifice of Tamora’s eldest son, as tribute for the sons he has lost in the war, which starts a terrible cycle of revenge. At the same time, Rome is need of a new Emperor, and the sons of the old one, Saturninus (Christopher W. Jones) and Bassianus (Turner Frankosky), are vying for the throne. The people of Rome want Titus to rule, much to the anger of Saturninus, and though Titus refuses the honor, he takes this as a personal insult, and a hatred for Titus and his family is born. When Saturninus takes Tamora as his queen, she is free to have her revenge unconstrained, which make this the bloodiest of all Shakespeare’s plays.
Titus is a cautionary tale about abuse of power, and examines what happens when personal desire and self-interest supplant the agreed upon socio-political structure. Though lacking dragons, the deadly creatures that inhabit this world are of the human kind- murderers, rapists and filicides- and in total they manage to cause 14 killings, 2 beheadings, 5 amputations, 1 multiple-rape, 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity, and an act of cannibalism.
Set in a near future, Ms. Geer has created a Rome where politics is not far from a game show, where the citizen’s cheers and applauses are demanded on cue cards, and the music and fanfare of the court sound like cheap advert jingles. She has dressed oppression in a shiny suit, and given it an ultra-white smile. Even before the start of the play, the long strains of fraught violin strings, part of an outstanding original music score by Marshall McDaniel, evoke a sense of epic foreboding.
Sheridan Crist plays Titus with great energy and agility, easily tackling emotional shifts from prideful rage to deepest loss. His vocal command and use of the language is a delight, and his Titus is deeply is inventive and entertaining in his journey from hubris to madness. It’s obvious he is enjoying the role. Michelle Wicklas is heartbreaking as poor Lavinia, dragged away powerless, to be viciously used by Tamora’s two sons. One feels real injustice when her father in the name of family honour ultimately kills her. Michael McFall, like a beefier Samuel L. Jackson, takes no prisoners as Aaron the Moor, Tamora’s lover. The delight he takes in his vengeful and villainous acts is gripping.
Besides the obvious brutal goings-on, this riveting production is deeply moving and surprisingly funny, which will have you shocked one moment and laughing the next at some very dark situations. Under director Ellen Geer’s expert hand the effect on the characters of these extreme situations gives rise to some very comic moments amongst the bloodletting, while ensuring her excellent cast is well grounded in the reality of the situations.
Not for the squeamish, it’s not to be missed!
Titus Andronicus runs continues through Oct 1 in rep. Recommended for mature audiences: adult themes and graphic violence.