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Ensemble transforms Gothic violence in Titus

Titus

MIT Shakespeare Ensemble

Kresge Little Theater

Nov. 30 through Dec. 3, 8 p.m.

By Gretchen Koot
Staff Reporter

The Shakespeare Ensemble's production of Titus Andronicus, perhaps the bloodiest of all of Shakespeare's plays, is a little over two hours of solid entertainment. Of course, it is not for the faint of heart, and I wouldn't recommend a pretheater dinner consisting of rare beef. There are murders aplenty, beheadings, hewn limbs, and a rape. Thankfully this is a college play and not an Oliver Stone film; so while the mayhem is deeply disturbing, it is not quite nauseating.

The strength of the play, which is strongly emphasized in Kim Mancuso's direction of this production, is its timelessness; Mancuso is a lecturer in the music and theater arts departments. One theme explored in the play is man's dual nature of brutality and familial loyalty and love. This nature persists.

Another prominent theme is the struggle for political power. We see today that this drive for power can supersede all other desires and push nations into war. Lust for power and xenophobia still take their toll in human blood and pain. A love of what is like self and a fear and hatred of all that is different still mark our own society in the form of nationalism and racism.

The quotes and poem in the program remind the audience of the current conflict in Bosnia. Before the first scene of the play, the actors come down to the stage, and to the accompanying sound of machine gun fire, each describes a scene in which the theater and the actors might be destroyed or altered by a war. Of course, we realize that we are sitting in a theater on the MIT campus in the United States, and surely such hardships would never happen here.

At the same time, exactly what the actors describe is happening in other places in the world and has happened here at other times in history and may happen again. The sound of machine gun fire which brackets the play was a nice touch, although in the beginning some of the actors' words were drowned out by the sound. The actors' initial address of the audience felt a little heavy-handed. It was hard not to resist such a blatant stab at our emotions. However, it served its purpose, for it forced the audience to look for insights into our present world in the bloody spectacle of Titus.

Although there is certainly a wide range of talent and experience in the Shakespeare Ensemble, all of the actors' performances were fairly good. Robert J. Pensalfini's G performance as Aaron, the Moor, was simply fabulous - as good as any professional performance I've seen. He reveled in his villainy. Wickedness oozed from his pores. And yet when he gazed at his infant son, his face was transformed to reveal fierce paternal pride.

Tamora, queen of the Goths, came across quite clearly as lusty and conniving through Natalia Fuentes' '95 fine portrayal of the ruthless matriarch. Sean P. Ningen '95 as the weak, yet power hungry emperor Saturninus, made the character perfectly hateful.

As for Orin J. Percus' G performance in the title role, I found that his careful body positioning and limping convincingly conveyed a Titus rheumatic with age. Lavinia's misfortune robs her of the possibility of having many lines, but Portia L. Vescio '95 wordlessly expressed Lavinia's suffering well enough to break one's heart.

The set was simple but inspired. Designed by Elizabeth A. Stoehr '96 with consultation by technical instructor William A. Fregosi, the floor of the stage was made to look like a warped chessboard, an appropriate setting for this play.

The conclusion is a departure from the original text, but I liked it. Without revealing it, I'll just say that it was powerful and thought provoking.