Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Andronicus by William Shakespeare

The Company
Front Row (seated), L to R — Brian Abraham, Kaitlyn Gault, Katie Pelensky, Rebekah Tripp, John McKetta, Gabriel Di Chiara, Mark Jacobson.
Back Row, L to R — Doug Harvey, Zach Kanner, Christopher Salazar, Anthony Mark Barrow, Ted Barton, TJ Marchbank, Paul Romero, Greg Steinbrecher, Nardeep Khurmi. Photos: Robert Cambell

By Joe Straw

“A “Moor” would make a wonderful villain and an inhuman one at that.  To the Elizabethans, the strange and therefore repulsive features of a black face and the habit of equating blackness with the devil made blacks a natural stereotype for villainy.  (Such irrational thinking on the part of whites has caused innumerable blacks innumerable separate agonies then and since.)” – Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare by Isaac Asimov, page 402

But who are the real villains in Andronicus?  Well, there ain’t no saints in this one, and I mean no one.  They’re all horrid.  In fact, villainy is a contest for which they all compete.   

This is Shakespeare’s Seneca tragedy, the play of beastly themes and physical actions, like marrying your mother and gouging your eyes out for doing so.   Those plays were extremely liked during the Elizabethan eras.  And with all the killings, lopping off limbs, ripping out tongues, and baking people into little meaty pies, Shakespeare was possibly poking fun at the play style that was too well liked. Certainly there is enough comedy and humor in this play that would suggest Shakespeare was having way too much fun. And there are also some very good dramatic scenes worthy of our illustrious playwright.

Coeurage Theatre Company. La’s ‘pay what you want’ theatre company presents Shakespeare’s “Andronicus’, adapted and directed by Jeremy Lelliott at the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Café through August 17th in Los Angeles, California.

Our story takes place before Christianity, a time of pagan rituals, and warring tribes of dirty barbarous Goths that get drunk and sing warrior songs.  Unfortunately, on this night, the drunken Goths are camped near the reportedly slightly cleaner and less inebriated Romans when they are overtaken.    

Titus Andronicus (Ted Barton), father of 25 sons and one daughter, has lost many sons in the war with his foe, the Goths, who he has now completely defeated.  Titus has come back to Rome to a hero’s welcome, and to bury a son who has recently been killed, leaving him with four sons, Lucius (TJ Marchbank), Quintus (Gabriel Di Chiara), Martius (John Klopping), and Mutius (Paul Romero).  

But more is taking place on this day, the emperor has died and Saturninus (Mark Jacobson), the first-born and rightful heir to the throne, claims the throne as his by birthright.

“Friends, that have been thus forward in my right,
I thank you all and here dismiss you all,
And to the love, and favour of my country
Commit myself, my person and the cause.” - Saturninus

But Bassianus (Doug Harvey), claiming this is a free election, says he should be given the chance at being emperor. 

During the pomp and ceremony of Titus’ return, Saturninus and Bassianus greet General Titus Andronicus with open arms. 

But the senate, not favoring either son, looks upon General Titus’s many warrior deeds and has given him the nod to be emperor. And Marcus (Brian Abraham), Titus Andronicus’ brother and Tribune, says the votes have been counted and Andronicus is the winner.

“A special party, have, by common voice,
In election for the Roman empery,
Chosen Andronicus, surnamed Pius…” – Marcus

Alas, Titus Andronicus feels that he is too old to accept the title emperor and reluctantly gives the position to the emperor’s eldest son, Saturninus.

Saturninus returns the favor with no gratitude. 

The funeral continues as Titus Andronicus brings in his dead son, but before the burial, he must sacrifice a body to secure his son’s safe passageway into the next beyond. And with the Goth prisoners looking on, never let it be said the Roman doesn’t have the gift of gab when it comes to sacrificing a Goth.  Titus elegantly commits a body for sacrifice.   

“I give him you, the noblest that survives the eldest son of this distressed queen.” – Titus Andronicus

Tamora (Rebekah Tripp), queen of the Goths, captured and in chains, is not liking this one bit as she pleads for her first born son, Alarbus’ (John McKetta) life, not once but three times.

“Patient yourself, madam, and pardon me.
These are their brethren, who you Goths beheld
Alive and dead, and for their brethren slain
Religiously they ask a sacrifice;
To this your son is mark’d and die he must,..” Titus Andronicus

“Oh cruel, irreligious piety!” – Tamora

Yes, this is something Tamora is never going to forget as the seed of revenge is implanted in her thoughts. And while she watches, Titus’ remaining sons go off and hack Alarbus to death, taking his remains and throwing them into the funeral pyre.

“See, lord and father, how we have perform’d
Our Roman rites; Alarbus’ limbs are lopp’d
And entrails feed the sacrificing fire,
Whose smoke, like incense, doth perfume the sky.” – Lucius

Talk about rubbing it in in front of Tamora.

Later Titus gives his daughter, Lavinia (Katie Pelensky), to Saturninus. Saturninus accepts her and says they will make a good couple.  But Bassianus, his brother, truly in love with Lavinia, steals her away with the help of Titus’ sons.

In a fit of rage upon losing his opportunity to have a family member as a part of the empery Titus goes after Lavinia but his arrogant son, Martius, stops him.

“My lord, you will not pass here.”  Martius

“What, villain boy!  Barr’st me my way in Rome?” – Titus Andronicus

Titus takes Martius’ head and breaks his neck, killing him. 

It only takes moments for a Roman to change his mind and in that moment Saturninus tells Titus that he doesn’t want Lavinia anyway.  He has his eyes set on Tamora, queen of the Goths.  (If only Saturninus had told him moments earlier.)

“These words are razors to my wounded heart.” – Titus

Saturninus, wanting no more of the warring Goths, takes Tamora, queen of the Goths, and lustfully leads her away.  Meanwhile, the body of Matius is still lying on the ground.  His brothers, Lucius, Quintus, and Martius, wants to bury the body in the family tomb but Titus is not having that.

Titus relents to his brother Marcus and all seems to be fine for the time being.

Holding on to his tenuous power, the Emperor Saturninus has a few delightful words with his brother wishing him good fortune with his new bride.

“Traitor, if Rome have law or we have power,
Thou and thy faction shall repent this rape.” – Saturnius

“Rape, call you it, my lord, to seize my own,
My true-betrothed love and now my wife?” – Bassianus

Tamora eases a fuming Saturninus and wants him to put away his differences; she has plans for all of Titus progenies.  

“Dissemble all your griefs and discontents:…
and then let me alone: I’ll find a day to massacre them all
and raze their faction and their family.” – Tamora

And now, as though an afterthought, Aaron (Anthony Mark Barrow) enters with his thoughts of wickedness, planting seeds of villainy, into the hearts of Demetrius and Chiron against the love of their wants, Lavinia, as they walk through the forest.  

“The forest walks are wide and spacious;
And many unfrequented plots there are
Fitter by kind for rape and villainy:
Single you thither then this dainty doe,
And strike her home by force, if not by words:…

…The palace full of tongues, of eyes, and ears:
The woods are ruthless, dreadful, deaf, and dull;
There speak, and strike, brave boys, and take your turns:
There serve your lusts, shadow’d from heaven’s eye,
And revel in Lavinia’s treasury.
” - Aaron

Aaron has Chiron and Demetrius on fire with words of lust and conquest.

“Sit fas aut nefas, (Sharpen our minds.) till I find the stream
To cool this heat, a charm to calm these fits.
Per Styga, per manes vehor. (Be it right or wrong.)” – Demetrius

And while Aaron, the Moor, waits for his plan to take affect, Tamora spots this villainous snake and begs him to let her in on the plan.  And in their quiet time in the forest, their intimate ecstasy becomes a physical one, and one that includes, in the aftermath, death and destruction.

Andronicus is a fantastic production.  These actors fill an almost empty space, using only a few props, and exhaust their instruments to give each character an extravagant life. It is a wonderful night of exhausting action and bloodletting drama.  If you are squeamish, go! If the idea of limbs being extricated from a human body is abhorrent to the very nature of your being, go! 

Jeremy Lelliott, the director, sat one row down to my left and was very interesting to watch as a moment missed the mark, or the action went overboard, or played to perfection, shaking his head or laughing in response to actions on stage.   And indeed there are a lot of marvelous moments going on, on stage.  Lelliott provides the right touches for the humor in this bloodstained play.  Some things may not have worked to precision but overall the night was wonderful.  

Yes, I do like to see this. But I have a few comments.

L - R Brian Abraham, Ted Barton, Katie Pelensky

Ted Barton (Titus) is always fantastic, working really hard to get the moments right, sweat pouring profusely off his forehead.  He finds just to right touch dealing with his daughter after her tragic lost.  It is an amazing scene that cuts to the core of a very deep emotion.  The scene in the forest with the bows and arrows requires a stronger objective to carry it to its conclusion. And not really sure about the “Chef Boyardee” outfit in the meaty pie scene but it came off to great comical effect. Barton is an incredible actor, one of the hardest working actors in Los Angeles today, and his performance should not be missed.

Rebekah Tripp is Tamora and has a very distinctive and angular face, a face you would want for this character, and a villainous face the camera would love. Revenge is her key motive and she will use anyone to make sure the general’s pain to death is slow and sure. Tripp is funny and vicious all within a heartbeat and she plays each moment to perfection.

Anthony Mark Barrow plays Aaron and was a very interesting portrayal but not really sure where this character was going.  He is evil, very evil, and does everything in is power to disrupt the way things work all for the simple fact that he enjoys doing it.  But we never see him enjoying the havoc he puts forth. The scene where he is tied up and is ready to be executed, he confesses to everything and with a purpose in mind, whatever the choice Barrow makes, we don’t see it. He is obviously pleading for his life and finding that connection that draws his conqueror closer, giving him more time on the planet, no matter how painful the details may be. Barrow is a terrific actor, has a powerful voice, and is outstanding on the stage.  

Mark Jacobson plays Saturninus and has a very good look on stage. But this Saturninus is slightly goofy and sometimes petulant which may not be the best choice for this character.  After all, he is the emperor of Rome, he is highly educated, and has the power of Rome behind him.  Jacobson has a very nice stage presence and has some very good moments on stage but goofy and petulant should be saved for another character.  And yet, watching Jacobson one knows he has the ability to be a strong emperor, of one who is polished and constantly thinking about his course of action, for himself and for those who serve him.  Still, overall, a very nice job.       

Brian Abraham plays Marcus, a Tribune, and has his brother’s well being in mind. But the job of a Tribune is to protect the interest of the people. So what may be his conflict? Protecting his brother, the general, when he is supposed to be looking after the little guy. There is more to this character that needs a stronger definition, a raging conflict,  and a stronger objective.

T J Marchbank plays Lucius who comes back later to outsmart them all. There is a scene when Lucius makes a decision on the Moor’s life. That scene needs more focus.  Lucius in on the opposite end of the stage and the speech is not absorbed by the one listening, giving credence, and making a decision.  Still, this is a very strong role for Marchbank and he succeeds magnificently.

Katie Pelensky plays Lavinia and does well with the role.  There is certainly more to be had with her relationship with Bassianus when she is near him, betrothed to Saturninus, and then being taken away. That relationship could be strengthened so that it is obvious whom she cared for the most.   Still Pelensky succeeds on many levels.    

Christopher Salazar plays Demetrius and along with his brother is not smart enough to stay out of trouble.  Alas, Demetrius appears to be the smarter brother, which is not saying much about his intellect.   Demetrius is wayward in his action and does not have a clue as to where he is going, or how he’s going to get there. But for Salazar, the relationship with his brother needs another element, one more dimension so this character has a stronger definition and objective.  Someone needs to be top dog in the relationship.

Zach Kanner is the untrammelled Chiron unfortunately schooling was not his strong suit. Chiron is so in love with Lavinia and he thinks he can get her without doing anything. Unfortunately, his plans don’t work so he has to rely on others, which gets him into more trouble.

Doug Harvey has some very good moments as Bassianus.  As the character, he is never able to be on the good side of anyone, the Emperor, his wife and her sons.  He feels the need to speak his mind, without the horrible imprecations so familiar to the Goths and their brethren.

John McKetta does some very strong work as Alarbus and has a very good presence on stage as the beggar.

Other members of this cast give meaning to this delightful cast.  They are Nardeep Khurmi as Publius, Gabriel De Chiara as Quintus, John Klopping as Martius, Paul Romero as Mutius, and Kateliyn Gault as the Nurse.  

Actors who did not perform on this night were John J. Pistone (Titus), Jessica Blair (Tamora), A.C. Sanford (Aaron), Robert Campbell (Saturninus), Spencer Rowe (Marcus), Oliver Singer (Lucius/Bassianus), Julianne Donelle (Lavinia), Earl Lino (Publius), Greg Steinbrecher (Quintus/Martius/Alarbus/Beggar), Raúl Bencomo (Mutius/Emillius), and Jacqueline Rosenthal (Nurse).   

TJ Marchbank, the Fight Director, had me wincing during one of the fight scenes.

Kara Mcleod, the Costume Designer, created wonderful costumes for this show.

Other members of this remarkable crew are as follows:

Stage Manager – Emily Goodall
Assistant Fight Director – M. Jennings Turner
Choreography – Tiffany Cole
Assistant Director – Abigail Marks
Sound Design – Joseph V. Calarco
Makeup Design – Jessi Rivera
Lighting Design – Tito Fleetwood Ladd
Production Intern – Jaemyeong Lee
Press Representative – Ken Werther Publicity
Graphic Design – Ryan Wagner
Text Coach – Sammi Smith

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take a Goth.

JULY 12 — AUGUST 17, 2014
FRIDAY AT 8PM: JULY 18 & 25, AUGUST 1, 8, 15



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