It's gory and horrifying. It's gut-wrenching and tragic. It's painful and unjust. William Shakespeare's first and bloodiest play, Titus Andronicus, runs at the Underground Collaborative with Voices Found Repertory through October 7th, bringing human cruelty and dramatized theatrics together for a startling performance.
This story is not for the faint of heart. In the words of director Hannah Kubiak, "This play has a reputation for being bloody and violent, and rightly so. So many of the events in this play are unnatural: dismemberment and mutilation, rape, murder, and cannibalism. Entire countries and families are corrupted... Such a world cannot survive for long."
While Kubiak's direction on some scenes feels absentminded, and occasionally cuts off sight lines entire sides of the intimate audience, her grasp on the tense scenes is fascinating. The stage pictures for near-death moments are stunning, and meld beautifully with Aaron Suggs's sharp lighting design.
Brittany Faye Byrnes steals the show as Aaron, the fountain of evil and darkness in the heart of the play. She paints the scene with her vivid monologues, expertly maneuvering her own motivations through the text. Her eyes alone tell stories. Byrnes's voice is poetry, and her grasp of the character is beyond compelling.
Lavinia, the victim of rape, mutilation, and deep loss, is brought to life by VFR Director of Public Relations and Marketing Alexis Furseth. Furseth brings a balance of inner strength, broken innocence, and genuine love to her character. Her interpretation brings shivers.
Visually, the show is a bit confusing; the walls are textured and lettered like ancient ruins, the corners are filled with paint buckets and raw particle board, and the costumes are utilitarian and modern. While each of these elements may have a place in this show, together, the different visions clash. It seems that costume designer Claire Tidwell, set designer Michael Cienfuegos-Baca, and props designer Kyle Conner all had a concept for the production, but did not compare notes prior to delivery.
Titus Andronicus is a horrifying piece, true. However, Voices Found Repertory's production is fresh and provocative. The dark tale in the small venue is definitely memorable.