If William Shakespeare were alive today, he might be writing scripts for Game of Thrones. That HBO show could have been inspired by Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy.
The plot is a grisly revenge tale driven by Titus (Amy Brooks) and Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Crystal Carter). The death orgy plays out on Springs Ensemble Theatre's stage in blood-spattered detail.
It's a small theater, so you get a close-up view of slashed throats, amputated hands, severed heads and for a special touch, some cannibalism. The mayhem is skillfully delivered by an 18-member, all-female cast.
The SET production features Sarah Shaver's exquisitely detailed costumes. Set designers Jenny Maloney and Max Ferguson make the most of the small space with a backdrop that works for multiple locations.
Fight Choreographer Steve Perkins has his hands full with multiple sword and knife fights. But he accomplished both of his goals: 1) He makes the combat look real, and 2) he does it safely.
Director Jenny Maloney turns Shakespeare's casting upside down. Female roles in Shakespeare's time were played by men; Maloney has cast women in all the roles.
Even though brutality is a trait traditionally attributed to men, Maloney proves that women can inflict as much pain, suffering and carnage as the guys.
In fact, a few minutes into the play, one forgets that all the actors are women.
Brooks brings a subtle dignity and a stubborn tenacity to her role. Wearing her long hair pulled back, in Shaver's gender-neutral costumes, Brooks takes on the noble gait, confidence and demeanor of a Roman general.
She runs an emotional gauntlet, from unbearable grief to gallant revenge, all without skipping a beat. Fair warning, though: If Brooks offers to cook for you, ask her for the recipe before you eat.
Carter is the evil villain in a tragic plot. She seems to relish being the bad girl, wreaking havoc with glee. Kala Roquemore (Aaron the Moor) is also a villain, but with less glee. Her Aaron doesn't need to plot revenge, since that would imply a motive. He needs no motive. He's a sociopath without empathy.
Shakespeare's virtuous victim Lavinia (Jessica Parnello) endures atrocious abuse. Parnello takes her boldly through her ordeal (including rape and mutilation), never once flinching at her desperate situation. Parnello somehow keeps Lavinia's virtue and dignity intact, even as the most despicable indignities are visited upon her.
This is an impressive production with focused direction, a talented cast and a crackerjack crew. If you're a fan of Shakespeare or slasher films (these two are not mutually exclusive), you should definitely check out Titus Andronicus.
As with all of Shakespeare's scripts though, be prepared for the 16th-century poetry. This isn't a "sit back and relax" experience. You must focus and listen carefully to the lines.
It helps to be prepared; I suggest reading the excellent plot synopsis at the Wikipedia page for Titus before the show. Your efforts will be justly rewarded.
Titus is the gold standard for revenge tragedies, and the SET production rocks the house.