TITUS ANDRONICUS - JULY 2014, DIRECTED BY WILLIAM WOLFGANG
When the renowned general, Titus Andronicus, returns home from years of defending the Roman Empire from the martial Goths, he sets in motion a deadly chain of events culminating in a tragedy of epic, culinary proportions.
A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR
“When will this fearful slumber have an end?” – Act III, Scene 1
Immediately as we enter the quasi-historical world of Titus Andronicus, we are forced to face a disturbing reality: war. However, this play is not about war, nor is it about the politics of war, as the exposition of the play may suggest. Shakespeare wrote this early revenge tragedy to satisfy the 16th century Elizabethans; and the play lived up to Shakespeare’s design, becoming a well-received crowd pleaser which helped launch his career. The Bard framed this play with war, but never once do we see a battle. War is only the brutal catalyst for this play, and looms over all of the action.
Why are the Romans and Goths at war? As with all war, it is obvious that one side doesn’t like the other. Shakespeare juxtaposes the two civilizations clearly: Rome, the world’s greatest civilization and the Goths, a nation of vicious Barbarians. He paints a vivid portrait of the Romans’ racial superiority over both the Goths and Aaron the Moor. Shakespeare soon turns this fallacy on its head, as Rome descends into chaos led by the floundering Romans themselves. The greatest civilization is now blinded by the same insatiable human need to carry out “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”
The above line, uttered by Titus himself in one of the play’s darkest moments, is the central question of Titus Andronicus. The cycle must be broken, but it seems as if every character in this play is only interested in achieving the temporary relief of transferring their extreme suffering to others. With the absence of a character to stop this grisly cycle, will an “eye for an eye…leave the whole world blind?” Shakespeare asks that question too; but, he doesn’t answer it. That very point is what makes all of Shakespeare’s work timeless and invigorating. He never gives you the answer – he makes the actor, the director, the scholar, the philosopher, and the audience search and answer every question he poses: the surface questions and the deeply visceral ones.
During our seven weeks of preparing for this show, the cast and I have had the opportunity to craft our answers to these difficult questions. We have enjoyed scouring the text, cautiously laughing at his dark humor, portraying villains, memorizing pages of verse and prose, and most of all, wearing Roman armor. We present our discoveries to you this evening, as Shakespeare envisioned them complete with Rome as a backdrop, on a story that is thousands of years older than its writer. This is a story that is embedded in our identity as humans, a terrifyingly real story that repeats itself in all corners of the globe, always told differently, but told so we can ask questions of ourselves.
This story is uncomfortable, unbelievable, embarrassing, outrageous, and ridiculous, but yet completely real. Violence is a cycle, hate is a cycle, and today we see it manifested in wars as well as racial violence, from the Middle East to Africa to unfrequented regions of the world. There are few that stand up to stop it. There are many that perpetuate it. Shakespeare’s play is tragically human.