The impetus to cast a largely male Shakespearean show such as "Titus Andronicus" (or any show for that matter) with an all female cast can come in a number of guises. A juxtaposition of male cruelty coming from the mouths of women or the opportunity for the ladies to take on these meaty roles normally slated for men, to name just a few. Well, the former, if that was an intent in Upstart Crow's production, was kind of lost on me as about 10 minutes into the show the novelty of women playing the parts wore off and these talented actresses disappeared into their male roles. This fact only strengthens the latter reasoning as the women brought the pain and betrayal just as well (if not better) than any men.
Definitely one of the more vicious of Shakespeare's plays, we follow the eponymous Titus (Amy Thone) as he returns home to Rome from his war on the Goths, victorious and prisoners in tow including the Queen of the Goths (Ki Gottberg) and her sons. But when Titus publicly executes one of the Queen's sons, she begins a campaign to destroy him, which is only fortified by her surprising elevation to Empress of Rome. The Queen instructs her sons to kill her new Emperor's brother, frame two of Titus' sons for the murder and rape and mutilate Titus' only daughter, Lavinia (Brenda Joyner). I told you the show was vicious. All of this sends Titus down a spiral of madness and revenge making this character a dream role for any actor (or actress).
Director Rosa Joshi has done a superb job here. Not only gathering together some of Seattle's most talented women (both established and up and comers) but has staged the 16 of them in some brilliant and innovative ways to keep the pace of this morose show from ever losing its drive. And combined with some stunning lights and sound from designers Geoff Korf and Dominic CodyKramers, the show becomes a feast for the senses beyond the performances.
But it's the performers that need to bring it all home and bring it they do. Gottberg is delicious as the duplicitous Queen Tamora. I find it interesting in a show spotlighting the cruelty of men; one of the most vicious characters in it is a woman. And Joyner is heartbreaking as the destroyed Lavinia. But the most outstanding roles of the evening had to come from Thone as the aging Titus and Nike Imoru as the Queen's Moore lover and partner in crime, Aaron. Thone gives her usual 110% in the role and turns in an incredible character arc as she devolves from conquering hero to revenge obsessed madman. But even during her descent you find yourself questioning if he is truly mad or just the smartest person in the room … or maybe both. And Imoru takes evil scheming to a whole new level as her portrayal of Aaron goes beyond the scheme and into a realm of pure treachery. And with her strength and presence she infuses into the character you cannot help but be mesmerized by it.
An entrancing and beautiful show (as beautiful as a show about rape and murder can be), this production of "Titus Andronicus" is one not to be missed and not just for some badass women taking on male archetypes but for an all around solid production. So I guess what I'm saying is, Come for the badass women, stay for the power of the production.
"Titus Andronicus" from Upstart Crow performs at the Lee Center for the Arts on the Seattle University Campus through October 7th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.upstartcrowcollective.blogspot.com.
Photo credit: John Ulman