The first time the set broke, an actor ran into the corner and pulled a piece of paneling loose. I thought, “Oh no! I hope their costume is all right!”
The second time the set broke, a long piece of paneling broke off underneath an actor’s foot. I thought, “Oh shit! I’m glad they’re okay.”
The third time the set broke, an even longer piece of paneling flew off from underneath an actor yet again. I thought, “Oh you have got to be kidding me.”
It’s hard to focus on a show when you’re staring at gaping seams in the set wondering if more pieces are going to come off. Or if opening a show on time is worth what appears to be cut corners in the set-building department. Calling this a glaring issue is especially appropriate, as a backstage light (to guide actors from the pit in the middle of the stage) shone in my eyes the whole time.
I’m glad no actual blood was shed during this, Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.
Prior to opening night, I was prepared to praise director—and Haven artistic director—Ian Damont Martin’s casting. Making the Romans actors of color and the Goths white performers is brilliant. It makes “Titus” a tragedy for our age and takes Aaron (the Moor) out of his original tokenization. Suddenly the show becomes a dialogue about white supremacy and its parasitic nature. In that respect, this show succeeds.
One of Shakespeare’s early plays, “Titus” suffers from trying way too hard to do way too much. Also it’s messy AF. Titus’ army seizes the Visigoths; he has the queen’s son killed; she swears to avenge her son’s murder. In the process the two families wage war on each other as Rome is led by the increasingly foppish Saturninus.
Despite the play being overly dramatic and the production overacted, this “Titus” does feature genuine moments that bridge the gap from Shakespeare’s “English” to our modern sentiments, namely the moments between Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Tarina Bradshaw) and Titus’ sister Marcus (Gabrielle Lott-Rogers). These two share a natural, familial connection with one another. Moments that are easily overlooked on the page are endowed with a human spirit because these two inhabit their roles so well. If this play’s democracy were real, Lott-Rogers is the one I would vote for. She is the adult we need in office.
Also keeping Rome from burning is Gregory D. Hicks as Titus’ son Lucius. Hicks elevates his character with his unwavering charisma. Even in the face of unspeakable horrors he gives his all and masterfully leads his fellow Romans through the fire. By the same token, Andrew Perez is the perfect Aaron. Aaron’s duality makes him the scariest person on stage even if he isn’t unceremoniously committing murder. His quiet seething is deafening.
Word to the wise: if you sit in the front row on any of the three sides, you may or may not get spattered with blood. Maybe bring a poncho? And definitely cover those drinks. (Amanda Finn)
Haven at the Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee, (773)697-3830, havenchi.org, $35. Through March 5.