Friday, June 8, 2012

Titus Andronicus: no picnic in the park

“…there they are both, baked in that pie…”
Titus Andronicus Act V, scene III.60

I watched Kyle Hatley’s vision of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus Wednesday night at the Living Room in Kansas City Missouri. Despite two children in the cast, I’d suggest you leave yours at home.

According to historical records, this play filled seats in its late-1500s day. Today, notable Shakespeare scholars consider Titus Andronicus the Bard’s worst play. They have their reasons, but in my opinion the play speaks to our time. The plays ability to speak to you depends upon what you choose to bring into the theatre. For it to affect you, you must allow yourself to be emptied and open.

Sound too complicated? After all, when you go to the theatre you wish for entertainment not work. If you desire a picnic with Shakespeare, catch him in the park this midsummer; dream with Antony and Cleopatra. You will have to do a bit of work getting through the banquet Titus hosts for his enemies. You may not wish to partake of his pies.

Miss this play and continue to ignore the ghastly bits of the world that appear in headlines. Shun this story and live blissfully, safe and sound. Perpetuate your wonder of why humans insist upon war and revenge. Enjoy the daily updates about the Presidential campaign. Peek periodically at the stories about returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Hope that your life remains settled free of stress and tragedy.

Dare to muster your courage to see this seldom seen Shakespeare epic and you will be shaken and stirred. Bring your personal experiences with you and experience how theatre can hurl you into a magical nightmare of self-examination. Allow yourself to utter “what have we done?” Fear for your children momentarily and then learn how to wrestle with uncertainty to diminish fear. Don’t bring your children but tell them this story.

I’ve come to understand why warriors speak sparsely about the horrors of their campaigns. I understand the diminished, subtle conversation. My Father was like that; he and his band of Army brothers who survived World War II.

People appreciate the phrase “war is hell”. We now dismiss the ugly business to volunteers only. One need not serve or as a parent fear for their children’s lives fueled by uncertainty. If one chooses to serve, one places oneself in the pit of conflicts uncertainty and violence.

My favorite character in the play is Aaron. He lives evil. He reminds me a great deal of Othello’s evil companion, Iago. I like them both. Badder than bad. Bad beyond your comprehension. Aaron’s the only character in Titus Andronicus who is honest and true. We have a hard time staring evil in the face these days. We deal with evil from a distance. In the play, Lucius, Titus’ son, thinks that he can make a grisly spectacle of Aaron’s torture and death. But the Aarons of this world propogate. We rarely talk with them. We chose to torture them, bury them up to their necks as food for the worms of the Earth and move comfortably on.

It’s only a play. It’s theatre. It’s not real.

Muster your courage. You’ll need it.

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