Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 18

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

If you've read or seen Titus Andronicus, you know why it doesn't appear more frequently at your local playhouse. Yes, it's by Shakespeare, but it features, rape, murder, dismemberment, anthropophagy, filicide. And even more acts that demonstrate most graphically the abominations we are capable of visiting upon one another.

As I posted here the other day, by 2008 Joyce and I had seen every Shakespeare play onstage except The Winter's Tale, Titus, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Richard II. I didn't really ever expect to see a production of Titus--though we had seen the grim and graphic film Titus, 1999, directed by Julie Taymor (Spider-Man on Broadway! but also The Lion King) and starring Anthony Hopkins as Titus and Jessica Lange as his nemesis, Tamora. Link to trailer on YouTube. I liked the film a lot and had a large blue poster for the film hanging in my classroom during the final decade of my career. Occasionally, a student would ask me what it was about--and that day we had some fun!

I first read the play in February 1987 (I was reading all the plays at the time), and I see that I underlined some sweet lines--Sweet mercy is nobility's truest badge, says Tamora (1.1); at the moment, she's trying to save her son from execution. (She fails.) Well, Tamora's other sons exact a horrible revenge: They rape, blind, and cut away the tongue of Lavinia, Titus' daughter. And I would say that all hell breaks loose, except, of course, it already has. Well, later, Titus gets his hand cut off (and I will resist the urge to say "Let's give Tutus a hand!"), but he plots a most disgusting revenge. He kills Tamora's sons and bakes them in pies. Then invites their unsuspecting mother to dinner.

By the end, just about everyone is dead (or eaten), and the stage is littered with corpses, a decoration he will repeat later in Hamlet and in some other plays. Oh, and at the very end of Titus? Some survivors toss Tamora's body outside. But throw her forth to beasts and birds of prey, says Lucius (one of Titus' sons). Her life was beast-like, and devoid of pity; / And, being so, shall have like want of pity (5.3).

Blackfriars at Staunton, VA
In the summer of 2009, Joyce and I learned that the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, was producing Titus. I was excited to go there for a number of reasons--not only to see a play I'd never seen but also because in Staunton is a replica of Shakespeare's Blackfriars (indoor) theater. They produce the plays much as Shakespeare would have: people playing multiple parts, minimum scenery and props, much interaction with the audience, low lighting that remains on throughout the productions, musicians performing before, during, after the show. (They do, however, cast women, one of their few concessions to the modern era!) The ACS cycles through all the Bard's plays over a period of years, and now it was time for Titus.

We drove down to Staunton to see Titus on the eve of Joyce's birthday. (Lovely present, eh?) And here are some things I wrote in my journal about the experience ...

... drove long way—about 400 mi—to Staunton, where we made a wrong exit, but soon found our motel, checked in ... crashed (I did manage to read a little Twilight ere the good part happened!); I slept restlessly (up 5–6 times); this a.m.—down to skimpy breakfast in the motel, then over to nearby Starbucks, where we got good chairs, and where I did Kirkus reading, and J worked on the T. Kidder book for the fall; afterwards, drove into beautiful Staunton, looked around (many shops closed [Sunday]), took some photos, went to lunch at Mill Street Grill (in an old mill), then over to a glass-blowing place, where J bought a lovely bowl; then to a coffee shop to wait a bit ere walking over to the Blackfriars, where I dropped about $70 in the gift shop (all for school), then in to the lovely space (seating a little over 300—not nearly that many there for Titus); they did it in very Eliz fashion—music and foolery at the beginning, minimum props and scenery (blood!), candle-level lighting all the way through—one 15-min intermission, though; people sitting onstage to watch, as well; major actors were very good; minor ones, not so—but I found myself very moved by some lines at the end about a grandfather—and in a number of other places, as well; very enthusiastic audience—joining in to participate in the Roman crowd scenes; Joyce liked it a lot, too; so glad we came—then I snarled when I saw that just last year they’d done Richard II ...; afterwards, drove around a little, got gas, got lost (a little), then went to grocery store for supper things (bread, yogurt, fruit); back to motel; ate our little supper in the breakfast area (no one else there) ...

Exciting, eh? Nerds on Holiday ... and I love it.

And, of course, it wasn't long before the Stratford Festival (Canada) produced Titus. We saw it on 7 August 2011. A brief journal entry ...

… such a bloody show (which they took very seriously—with little playfulness—one exception: when Lavinia helps kill the two boys who raped her, she’s dressed all in white, a look reminiscent of some teen horror flick, and she flips open two broad blades, one from each stump at the end of each arm—broad as Bowie knives; before the blackout it becomes very clear she will  ram these blades up the butts of the rapists!) ...

Next: The Two Noble Kinsmen

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