June 13, 2013

'Titus,' all the charm of a good tragedy

- THEATER REVIEW

WHAT: "Titus Andronicus" by Mad Horse Theatre Company

WHERE: The Hutchins School, 24 Mosher St., South Portland

WHEN: Continues through Sunday

TICKETS: $15 to $20; Thursdays are pay-what-you-can

INFO: 730-2389By STEVE FEENEY

Do "gods delight in ... tragedies?" The Mad Horse Theatre Company in South Portland has decided to find out if audiences do.

It's closing its 27th season with a production of "Titus Andronicus," a work that has regained favor with fans of Shakespeare in recent years.

This early play by the Bard treats, perhaps less artfully, of themes found in his later works. "Titus" has charms of its own to offer, though, if that is the right word for so violent a story.

The play concerns the Roman general of the title, who returns from war with the Goths. He executes a young prisoner in front of the man's family. With revenge on her mind, the mother, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, escapes and insinuates herself into the bed of the morally weak emperor Saturninus, to whom Titus has sworn allegiance.

Tamora's surviving sons, guided by the demonic Moor Aaron and motivations of their own, rape and mutilate Titus' daughter Lavinia. This sets Titus on his own path of revenge, and the body count begins to grow.

Director Stacey Koloski and the Mad Horse crew have set this "Titus" in the close but comfortable confines of their regular performance space in South Portland. With 16 actors taking on 22 roles, it's a snug fit, but brings the surrounding audience up close to the tears and rage, and oftentimes near-breathless speechifying.

Masks of armor adorn the backdrop, and swords and daggers are drawn at will by soldiers as well as civilians. Ominous music heightens certain scenes in this well-done production.

The cast is full of local stage regulars. Tony Reilly, known for his work with the American Irish Repertory Ensemble, takes the title role and employs his powerful voice to good effect in his portrayal of the warrior who is somewhat puzzled by the carnage he encounters away from the battlefield. He was particularly good during the later scenes, when Titus "acts" crazy as he finalizes his revenge.

Burke Brimmer makes a perfect Emperor. Christine Louise Marshall's Tamora brings an air of ruthlessness that's particularly striking when Lavinia tries to appeal for a sort of feminist solidarity in seeking mercy. As the preyed-upon young woman, Kat Moraros is saddled with the rather unglamorous role of whimpering at length.

Nicholas Schroeder and Erik Moody, as the attackers of Lavinia, convey a sense of sociopathic menace.

Things may get over the top when severed heads and other body parts start to fall. But this is a play that would like to know where true justice can be found.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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