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A Tarantino-Style 'Titus' from Off the Wall

Jun. 20, 2017
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Dale Gutzman’s production of William Shakespeare’s famous bloodbath tragedy, Titus Andronicus, is a horrific, fast-paced and commendably lucid interpretation. The director-star aptly compares his offering to the work of Quentin Tarantino. The production spares nothing in the realms of gore, madness and strangely apropos Rat Pack soundscapes.

An elegant mélange of production values brings home the timelessness of human cruelty, greed and supreme arrogance. Gutzman’s design, David Roper’s technical direction, and Marilyn and Randy White’s contributions to props and costumes create a world full of disparate influences including everything from Roman imperial drapery to modern punk-rock and BDSM attire, and from katanas and daggers to Ziploc bags for severed body parts. 

There are no weak links in the formidable performance ensemble, although a few shine especially bright. This is a difficult play for female roles, but Maura Atwood and Laura Monagle put in strong performances as the ravaged Lavinia and the merciless empress Tamora, respectively. Monagle’s characterization is particularly striking for its subtle but omnipresent sexualization; the character’s wiles extend even to her own sons through Monagle’s physical choices. Sandy Lewis and Barbara Weber counterbalance this with an element of religious femininity, appearing as silent, white-faced priestesses who observe the action and facilitate the rituals to which the players cling when the status quo crumbles.

Among the large male ensemble, Shayne Steliga as Aaron is particularly powerful. Although the character is the most ruthless of the bunch, Steliga’s acute understanding of his extreme directness and loyalty to self alone make him almost likeable. Gutzman’s Titus is a tour de force reflecting a nuanced and highly original take on the character. Where the grief-stricken general of the play’s later acts is often played as merely enraged and vengeful, Gutzman brings a manic edge to his work, making Titus something of an insane clown moving seamlessly from hysterical laughter and tears to swift, poetically constructed acts of revenge.

The play has moments of humor—both in The Bard’s original language and in this production’s interpretations of words whose meanings have changed over time—but the audience was largely silent. Although it may take a dark sense of humor to accept the levity in such depravity, this production is nevertheless a must-see for any and all interested in power structures, human foibles and the dear price we pay for our illusions.

Through June 25 at Off The Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St. For tickets, call 414-484-8874 or visit zivcat.com/offthewalltheatre

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