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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2007

Gore, mayhem, insanity fill Bard's 'Titus'

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Stephen Mead is Titus Andronicus and Kathy Hunter plays Lavinia in Shakespeare's revenge tragedy "Titus Andronicus."

Brad Goda

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That bodies pile up quickly near the end of a Shakespearean tragedy is not remarkable. But nowhere do they hit the floor more quickly than in "Titus Andronicus," the third and final play in this summer's Shakespeare Festival.

When you add in the severed hands and heads and the other miscellaneous human parts that are baked into a pie, you get an early work that is a blood curdling revenge tragedy with scenes that look suspiciously like absurdist satire.

"Titus Andronicus," at least, may have opened the way for Shakespeare's mature works.

Given the overabundance of gore, mayhem, insanity and rape that fills the play, one might wonder how seriously to regard the drama. The answer for director Harry Wong III seems to be "dead seriously." He notes in the program that the play simply "is what it is."

What it is in this production is a neatly trimmed performance that plays a little over two hours, with a jaw-dropping first act that leaves the intermission audience wondering where the violence could possibly escalate. That's a pretty good way to bring them back in for Act Two.

The intimate playing area with audience seating on three sides works well for this play. Just about everyone in the cast has mastered the dialogue, and Wong works in visual effects that strongly support the action.

Vigorously bloodstained costumes are only the starting point.

The cast wears stylized white face paint accented with skull-like shadows. Red scarves spill out of wounds to simulate blood, and crimson confetti is passed around the audience to share in eating the human pie.

But these are only the gimmicks. The evening also includes some exciting directorial choices and several sound acting performances.

There is an overtly sexual and bawdy seduction scene between Danel Verdugo as Tamora and Troy Apostol as Aaron. Kathy Hunter as Lavinia is not only raped and mutilated; she is victimized in a preliminary taunting scene that is even more chilling than her subsequent butchered reappearance.

And, with a little bit of lighting and a great deal of successful physical suggestion, Wong and Jason Kanda as Quintus successfully simulate a scene at the bottom of a deep hole in the forest.

Stephen Mead is excellent in the title role articulate, emotional and a sturdy lighthouse beacon amid the waves of excessive violence that could swamp a less steadfast performance. Apostol and Verdugo match him in intensity and Walter Eccles as Marcus and Swaine Kaui as Lucius give strong support. Hunter keeps her head through a difficult scene in which she identifies her assailants without benefit of tongue or hands, and Verdugo toughs her way through a strange interlude that is part reality and part hallucination, in which Tamora impersonates Revenge.

"Titus" follows the unpopular "King John" in a season that gets a big boost from originality, energy, and a small, thrust theater playing space. The festival is dedicated to former University of Hawai'i professor Terence Knapp, who championed the performance of Shakespeare's works. This year should make him proud.