Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Titus In Chicago

PopCult Theatre Review

Last week your PopCulteer took The Cardinal Amtrak Line to Chicago for a quick theatre trip with his wife. Our main purpose for the trip was to see the Steppenwolf production of Bug, which I will write about in a bit.

However, we added a second night of theatre to the trip, purely by dumb luck. Melanie is currently in rehearsals for a local production of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and I discovered that a company in Chicago was mounting their own production of Titus, so we decided to go see it so we could take in a different interpretation.

We have great luck when it comes to Chicago theater.

This production of Titus is the work of Haven Chicago, and took place at The Den Theater in Wicker Park. We were mightily impressed by both.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, which is considered Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy, it tells the story of a fictional general in ancient Rome, Titus Andronicus, who conquers the Goths and brings their queen, Tamora, and her sons to Rome in chains as tribute to the new Emperor.

This is a story of stupid pride, foolish decisions, bloody revenge and the horrible outcome of war, vengeance and pettiness. It’s part soap opera, part political thriller and part grindhouse exploitation.

Directed by Haven’s Artistic Director Ian Damont Martin, Titus keeps most of the original text intact, but presents a newer take on the story. All the Roman roles are cast with Black actors, all the Goths and one Moor are White. Haven is a racially and ethnically diverse theatre troupe, but foremost they are a remarkably talented group of artists who have proven that they can handle Shakespeare as well as anyone.

The cast is phenomenal. Colin Jones as Titus (seen below, center) has just the right mix of gravitas, dignity and narcissistic over-confidence that makes this such a tragic play. Micheala Petro (seen left, with Christopher Wayland) brings a maniacal quality to Tamora that works well with both the horrific and comedic aspects of this production.

Amid all the bloodshed, there are moments of levity and dark humor, and both are allowed to flourish without detracting from the story.

Two traditionally male characters are cast with female actors, and those roles are gender-flipped. Bassianus (Lakecia Harris), is now the sister of the new emporer, Saturninus, instead of his brother. This changes one relationship to a gay one, which to be honest, doesn’t even raise an eyebrow anymore.

Marcus Andronicus (Gabrielle Lott-Rogers), the brother of Titus, is now his sister, and if anything, this makes a scene where Marcus discovers the mutilated and violated daughter of Titus wandering in the woods far more emotional and tender than it is with a male Marcus. Lott-Rogers is striking in her role.

An additional role, Chiron, a son of Tamora, is played by a female actor, Morgan Lavenstein, but the character remains male. Lavenstein fills the role with the proper amount of villiany.

While the entire cast is wonderful, I do have to single out two other performers. Tarina Bradshaw as Lavinia, manages to bring a level of strength to a role that exceeds the typical beset-upon victim.

Christopher Wayland embodies Saturninus with a Kid Creole/Morris Day Swagger that allows the comedic cowardice of the character to come to life without taking anything away from his treachery and duplicity.

This is a once-in-lifetime production of Titus Andronicus, and if you are in the Chicago area, I would strongly suggest you make your way to the Den Theater to see it. This run ends on March 14, so you don’t have much time, but it is really worth the trip.

You can find information about tickets and performances HERE.

PopCult Note: I want to thank Haven and director Ian Damont Martin for being so welcoming and kind to us last week. We lingered a bit after the production and spoke with Ian for a few minutes. As I said above, we were mightily impressed, and intend to keep track of what Haven and The Den will be doing in the future, so we can plan our theatre trips around their upcoming productions. Keep in mind that this production of Titus is not the same as the production that opens here in Charleston Thursday. I’ll tell you all about that one tomorrow.

1 Comment

  1. Douglas Imbrogno

    Cool review, Rudy. As a Shakespearian novice, the darkness of “Titus” (I am doing opening music for the Charleston WV production), takes some getting used to. Your insightful review of the Chicago production (what a neat troupe that sounds like) helps me understand the play better. Thanks.

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