Titus Andronicus has long been Shakespeare's most ridiculed play. Centuries before Harold Bloom and T.S. Eliot dismissed the Roman tale of revenge begetting revenge as "an explosion of rancid irony" and "one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written," a self-styled script doctor named Edward Ravenscoft who "adapted" the work during the Restoration concluded that the original text was "rather a heap of Rubbish than a Structure."
But recent reassessments have recast Titus as the work in Shakespeare's canon most capable of reflecting the impact of violence to a violent age. Director Carolyn McDaniel suspects the work was actually his Tarantino play, a parody meant to expose the absurdity of a world in which extreme retribution has disastrously become the avenue of first recourse. The title character, a military commander who's been away fighting the Goths for 10 years, returns to Rome in triumph. Nonetheless, "he comes home to this crazy Rome that has broken all of the rules he knows, the honors he was used to," McDaniel notes. "It's a homecoming to something not expected."
McDaniel credits the play's initial popularity to "the way it lets us laugh at something that's just terrible. When a moment of tension or violence releases into laughter, something breaks through. Titus lets us look at a certain genre in a way it's not usually looked at."
As Pere Ubu might have put it: When life's a joke, laugh. The production features Chris Burner, P.J. Maske, Gregor McElvogue and, in the title role, Tom Marriott. Performances run Thursdays–Saturdays at 8 p.m. through March 10. —Byron Woods