Titus Andronicus

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Seth Duerr
Rising Phoenix Theatre Company
The Church of the Holy Innocents
128 W.37th St. (212/561-0077)
Non-union production (closes Dec. 5)
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Titus Andronicus is arguably Shakespeare’s most gory tragedy. Rising Phoenix Theatre Company presented a well-paced, effective and entertaining production of the bloody play with a good cast, ironically in the hall of a church.

Titus Andronicus is a story of revenge. Titus (Seth Duerr) returns from war and sacrifices a son of the Goth queen, Tamora (Marsha Jelleff) in compensation for the son he has lost in the war. Tamora vows vengeance; when she ends up the Empress she begins to plot against Titus in every way possible with the help of her lover and slave, the Moor, Aaron (Melvin Huffnagle). When Titus figures out what is going on, he, too, begins to retaliate, until most of both families have been slain.

Titus Andronicus is not the most moving Shakespeare. By the end, the audience is so desensitized to the deaths, that they become almost farcelike. But even mediocre Shakespeare is still Shakespeare, filled with verse unmatched by any other playwright.

This production nicely abridged the play and kept it moving swiftly. Duerr’s staging made good use of the odd performance space. He used a myriad of exit paths well. The show commenced with some welcome audience participation, which was a cute idea.

The actors had stage presence, and most had good enunciation. The highlights were Jelleff and Huffnagle. Jelleff embodied the powerful Tamora, pursuing her vendetta with fierceness; she gave a multi-layered performance filled with passionate desire and anger. Huffnagle was fantastically feisty as the maniacal Moor. His energy and evil permeated the hall.

Technically the show was minimal yet effective -- a no-frills production, which just made the play stand out as it should.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Seth Bisen-Hersh