In Utah Shakespeare Festival's production of the Bard's "Titus Andronicus," tongues are cut out, arms severed, hands go missing, necks are slashed, children are eaten, and, of course, heads are decapitated. But director Henry Woronicz somehow transforms all this violence into something hypnotically lyrical.
The script - perhaps Shakespeare's first - is a flawed revenge tragedy that shows a genius playwright finding his way. Titus is a Roman general who avenges his son's death by killing the killer. Soon, the killer's mother avenges her own son's death. This tit-for-tat justice goes on until - no surprise - the major characters are all dead at play's end.
The biggest challenge facing Woronicz is, how do you mount all that carnage and still tell a legitimate story? Too much blood and it's tough to watch. Too much self-mocking and it's a heavy-handed comedy.
Woronicz has come up with a solution. He takes the tale semiseriously. When we see people mourn their loses, the grief is heartfelt. Yet, the director has slightly stylized the events. He allows us to get in on the absurdity of all these people doing each other in. And when a grossly violated woman finally becomes strong enough to slaughter her attackers, the audience applauds. The reaction reminded me of how people used to cheer the climatic shootout in Westerns.
Dan Kremer busts his tail as Titus in a role that demands a lot of physicality and a lot of red-faced reactions. Our pity is tempered a bit by the joy of his glorious speaking voice. As Titus' daughter, Melisa Pereyra comes across at first as a wholesomely beautiful woman with a pleasant disposition. But she shows her acting chops after her character's mutilation. With no voice, no arms, and mounds of bandages, she manages a performance of nuance and specificity. As the evil Queen of the Goths, Jacqueline Antaramian has the stamp of goth in her soul - and snake.
In the end, all the actors in mask respond to a drum beat by jerking their heads momentarily toward the audience. They seem to be saying, "Heed the moral of this ridiculous tale." Woronicz's achievement is in showing us the ridiculous with theatrical wizardry mixed with quiet, genuine feeling.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@ aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.