AISLE SAY San Francisco


by William Shakespeare
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Joel Sass
Bruns Memorial Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

California Shakespeare Theater is opening its 38th season with its first production of William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus." There's a good reason why the drama is seldom produced. It's an early work with a plot that becomes almost laughably melodramatic as more and more bodies litter the stage. Still, Cal Shakes and director Joel Sass make the best of it, thanks to a strong cast and solid production values.

Titus Andronicus (James Carpenter) is a war hero recently returned to Rome with prisoners in tow. Chief among them is Tamora (Stacy Ross), queen of the Goths. Titus's refusal to spare her eldest son's life, despite her heartfelt pleas, sets off a bloody spiral of revenge and betrayal instigated by Tamora and her secret paramour, the villainous Aaron (Shawn Hamilton), a Moor.

Contributing to the mayhem are Tamora's surviving sons, Demetrius (Chad Deverman) and Chiron (David Mendelsohn), who ravish and maim Titus's daughter, Lavinia (Anna Bullard), and murder her husband, Bassianus (Liam Vincent). In the meantime, Tamora has married Bassianus's evil brother, Saturninus (Rob Campbell), the emperor. Allied with Titus are his son, Lucius (Nicholas Pelczar); Lucius's young son, also called Lucius (Caleb Alexander); and Titus's brother, Marcus (Dan Hiatt) -- the only three left standing after all the killings.

Emily Greene's stark concrete slab set is complemented by Russell H. Champa's lighting. The costumes are by Paloma H. Young, who disregards the outdoor theater's often cold nights in the dresses for Ross and Bullard. The sound by Andre Pluess, choreography by Marybeth Cavanaugh and fight direction by David Maier. The pale makeup worn by most of the principals along with the masks worn by the ensemble echoes the set's starkness. The cast is generally excellent, especially Ross. Kudos also to Delia MacDougall, who shows her versatility as several minor characters.

Still, there's no getting around the fact that "Titus" is one of the Bard's lesser plays, one that can't compare to the likes of "Hamlet," which also claims quite a few victims before its resolution.

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