PROVO — Blood, blood, and more blood. Titus Andronicus is without a doubt Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most violent play. According to English Professor S. Clark Hulse, Titus Andronicus features more deaths than any other Shakespeare play, even more than Hamlet, Macbeth, and other, more famous tragedies. That is quite a blood sausage of a play, and it’s not for the faint of heart. That has not stopped Grassroots Shakespeare Company from taking it on—and just in time for horror fans to get their bloody fix this Halloween season.
Presented at the Castle Amphitheater in Provo, the Grassroots production of Titus Andronicus does not skimp on the blood or the gore, nor does it omit any of the atrocities in Shakespeare’s script. However, the unique way in which the play is presented establishes a kind of barrier that keeps the audience at a distance, preventing any psycho-emotional immersion—which is most likely a good thing, considering the content. The Grassroots Shakespeare Company present their plays in a style that is as close to Shakespeare’s original methods—meaning there is no director, minimal rehearsal time, actors provide their own costumes, and most importantly the audience is encouraged to participate.
Prior the show the ensemble instructs the audience to respond with cheers and excitement when they see something they like; additionally, they encourage the opposite response for something they don’t like. As a result, the audience is safe to make noise, get refreshments, take pictures, and do many things forbidden in a typical theatrical performance. The audience is constantly commenting on the action, occasionally addressing the characters directly: “Oh come on Titus! Don’t do it! Don’t kill him!” (Titus killed him anyway.)
While this play is extremely violent, it’s important to note that Grassroots’ production of Titus Andronicus is a very tongue-in-cheek production. The cast is well aware of how absolutely shocking it is, and they relish it. For instance, a splash zone is established for patrons who have paid for standing tickets and at intermission, cast members literally squeegee the leftover pools of blood into the cracks of the stage and off the front. The apparent delight in the violence somehow makes it all very comical. A band of musicians—some of whom double as actors in the play—add a great deal to this, with quirky yet chilling tunes that promote a more light-hearted approach to the murder. It’s strange, but also an equally humorous accompaniment for each horrific act.
It should be noted that amidst the murder and dismemberment, Titus Andronicus deals with sexual assault, which could have been dealt with poorly amidst the rest of gratuitous violence. However, Grassroots Shakespeare Company treated this atrocious act with a respect that radiated into the audience. In the most horrible moments, there was no laughter and there was no fun, nor should there have been.
While the violence and gore really take the center-stage in Grassroots’ Titus Andronicus, that should not detract form the excellent storytelling of the actors. In a truly ensemble effort, the cast gets the most out of the language. I could not identify a weak link in the chain, as each member of the cast clearly fulfills their role in the ensemble and in the plot. While all the actors brought their best, the performances from principal characters were very enjoyable. Mark Oram, who plays the titular character, leads the cast of equally talented individuals on a journey of revenge. Shawn Saunders plays the twisted moor, Aaron, with a sickly glee that instantly instills a hatred for this meddlesome villain. But again, all parts, small or large were very well played. With nothing more but a wooden stage, they expertly crafted a world and a story that pulls the audience in.
Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s unique and dreadful production of Titus Andronicus is well supported by an ensemble of actors who truly know how to convey Shakespeare’s language and story. Those who are looking to get their Halloween ya-ya’s out will find great satisfaction in the gratuitous amount of violence. Those looking for a well-crafted telling of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-produced stories will be equally impressed. In the program, the Grassroots Shakespeare Company promises that after seeing Titus Andronicus, “you won’t be able to keep quiet about it.” They weren’t kidding. It’s a wild, violent, bloody ride and if you can stomach it, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.