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Reduxion Theatre's ambitious but flawed production of 'Titus Andronicus' features some standout moments and performances


None May 20th, 2010

andronicus_7-06x10-58cm
Titus Andronicus
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
through May 29
Reduxion Theatre Company
City Arts Center
3000 General Pershing
www.reduxiontheatre.com
651-3191
$15 adults, $12 students and seniors

For the final production of the its second season, Reduxion Theatre mounts another adaptation of a Shakespeare play; this time, it's "Titus Andronicus," the Bard's bloodiest tragedy.

The play opens with Titus, an aging but well-respected Roman general, returning home after a victory against the Goths. Prisoners are in tow, including the enemy Queen Tamora; her sons, Demetrius and Chiron; and her consort, Aaron the Moor. After Titus refuses to spare one of the sons during a ritual sacrifice, Tamora begins plotting her revenge.

Fortune smiles on her when the new emperor, Saturninus, takes her as his wife to spite Titus, whose daughter elopes, rather than marry the emperor. Through Tamora and Aaron's machinations, as well as his own inflexibility, Titus ends up at the center of a series of blood-soaked tragedies.

The problems with this production begin with the adaptation. As with many Reduxion shows, "Titus" has been updated to a more contemporary time. But unlike the company's take on "Taming of the Shrew" and "Romeo and Juliet," where the setting changes seemed to be inspired by the original text, I saw no obvious reason for a change in "Titus," other than to feature a visual gag based on the silly notion that Tamora and the other Goths in the play are modern-day Goths, a warring tribe of fashion rejects who do their shopping at Hot Topic and take time to do their makeup before going into battle. No wonder Titus won that recent campaign against them.

Without any other obvious reasons for the setting change, the play feels undermined from the start. Equally ill-conceived is the vaguely unsettling electronic music by Jacob Becannen. It is, however, quite effective during the successful "The Rape of Lavinia" ballet, which Oklahoma City Ballet artistic director Robert Mills created just for this show. Evocative, beautiful and hard to watch, the dance conveys the horror and brutality of Demetrius and Chiron's violation of Lavinia in a way that is heightened and deeply disturbing.

The play also features a number of strong performances. In Tamora, the always larger-than-life Rebecca McCauley has found a character that benefits from her dynamism. Her portrayal of the vengeful queen is a delight to watch. As the selfish and petty Saturninus, Wil Rogers manages to bring his usual charm, while also illuminating the many different faces of the ambitious, but not necessarily evil, politician. Sean Eckart plays Tamora's raping, murdering son Demetrius like a hungry predator. Michael Gibbons turns in solid work as Titus, with good support from Shawn Hicks as his brother, Marcus.

The modern costumes "” suits and the aforementioned Goth costumes "” range from uninteresting to over-the-top, but the biggest technical issue is the execution of the violence. Director Rodney Brazil chose to play up the bloodiness onstage and in its publicity. While it's obvious that Reduxion wanted to deliver a visceral experience (it isn't recommended for children under 15), only one of the blood-spray effects really came off the night I saw the play. Along with a surprisingly comical tone present in many scenes, this did little to dissuade the audience from chuckling at inappropriate times.

Even with these problems, Reduxion's production of "Titus" is far from uninteresting and, in the end, still a lot of fun to watch. "”Eric Webb
 
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