‘Titus Andronicus’ roars with bloody revenge at Shakespeare Theatre

By Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – “Titus Andronicus,’ considered one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest, torture-filled plays, nevertheless receives a spellbinding production at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

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Tautly directed by Brian Crowe, the tale of deception, betrayal and loss keeps its pulsating edge, clearly defined plots and counter-plots throughout. All the actors are superb.  Heading a large cast are Bruce Cromer as Titus, Robert Cuccioli as tribune and his brother Marcus, Clark Scott Carmichael as the eldest son Lucius and Fiona Robberson as Lavinia. Cromer possesses all the wily moves to convince Tamara that he’s going mad. He has murdered one of Tamara’s sons and her vengeance is to encourage her younger sons to rape Lavinia. To prevent her from blaming them, they cut off her tongue and hands. And that’s just the beginning of the gory proceedings that pit one sect against another.

Cucccioli displays a note of reason during the emotion-charged clashes, while Carmichael ultimately inherits the command from his father. Robberson is a lovely Lavinia, hardly deserving of the brutal actions in the play.

Among the Goths are the manipulative Tamora, played with cunning by Vanessa Morosco, Chris White as Aaron, a Moor (her secret lover) and Benjamin Eakeley as Saturninus, eldest son of the emperor, who marries Tamora.  Aaron insists he never repents for all the bloody deeds that he has encouraged, yet is possessive of the young son that he has fathered with Tamora.

Despite all the blood-curdling events, director Crowe also emphasizes the sense of family and loyalty. There are even moments of humor during the play. His direction is crystal clear, making this story come alive in a way many Shakespearean productions at other venues fail to achieve.  Yes, it’s gruesome and chilling, but totally absorbing.

Dick Block’s scenic design is a harsh set of hanging daggers, a tilted helmet, a rocky precipice and other grim touches. Costumes by Yao Chen hold some surprises, with occasional touches of contemporary garb. Sound design by Karin Graybash and lighting by Andrew Hungerford lend to the sense of clashing armies. Rick Sordelet is fight director, enhancing the swift, devastating action.  

Before the play begins, an assortment of street cleaners appear to be sweeping the stage and aisles. Red confetti and background shades of red serve as reminders of bloody scenes. According to program notes, the attack on Lavinia and demise of Tamora’s sons are based on part of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”

“Titus Andronicus” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison, through Aug. 5.  For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ. org.