it’s always great to see some Shakespeare, especially works that are less produced. Frog and Peach Theater Company have that going for them with their current production of Titus Andronicus. This history play has many of the well known characteristics that Shakespeare is known for; revenge, murder, deception. etc.
Decorated war hero, Titus Andronicus returns to Rome with gallant celebration. He is named Emperor, but refuses this honor which he comes to regret. His enemies rise to power and demolish Titus and his family. Eventually Titus enacts revenge on those that have scorned him before, in great Shakespearean tragedy tradition, nearly everyone dies. Of course there are other plots that co-mingle with this one, but I will not explain all of them. If you want to know more read the play or better yet, go see the show.
There are highs and lows in the cast. There are moments of brilliance, followed by forced emotional acting. Yes, Shakespeare calls for several different crucibles of great feeling, but if not done truthfully these peaks seem s laughable rather than poignant. Unfortunately,Greg Mullavey, who plays Titus, gets caught in this unevenness. Mullavey has some fine moments on stage, but then follows them up with fake tears and affected rage. In one scene Titus loses his hand. Mullavey cries out in pain, but quickly plays the rest of the scene as if nothing happened. Yet, his final scene is compelling and he connects to the play in a palpable way. It seemed as if Mullavey was unsure on stage and somewhat floundering around. These are his weaker moments, but when he finds his footing he is a force to be reckoned with. The hero of the cast is Phillip Gregory Burke, plays Aaron the scheming plotter, brilliantly. We firmly believe n his demonic nature and he is deliciously evil to watch. Theatergoers need to be on the lookout for Burke as I’m sure we will see more of him.
In addition to the mismatched performances, the technical aspects make it difficult for us to totally immerse ourselves in the world of the play. In the opening scene soldiers are lifting men to be buried. But the actors lift up these corpses as if they don’t weigh a thing. Then, the creative team decided to use red cloth as blood. When people were killed red cloth appeared. But it is so obvious that it’s fake, it takes us out of the moment. There is great fight choreography happening. I wish they would leave the red cloth out and let us fill in the blanks. When it is revealed that Aaron has a bastard son with the white queen, Tamera, we clearly see that it’s a fake baby. These incidents are jarring and we disconnect because our suspension of disbelief has been violated.. The reality of the play needs to be heightened consistently in order for us to stay engaged at all times. The music is, like a lot of the play, heavy-handed. Instead of adding to the play, it seems to be forcing us to have an emotional reaction, instead of letting us get there on our own. A common sound cue, harkens to the Jaws famous eerie tune. If they were under-scoring a movie, this would perhaps have better effect.
I hope this production can iron out some of these chinks in their armor. Because when they tell the story honestly and simply, it is captivating. It feels as if the cast and crew is working diligently to get us somewhere, but they don’t need that unnecessary pressure. They are enough without all the extra bells and whistles.
Titus Andronicus plays now through Nov. 2, 2014 at the West End Theatre 263 W 86th St.