Thought to be perhaps William Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus Andronicus has not fared well over the years. Often out of fashion and thought to be an inferior work, the play also drew criticism for gratuitous violence. Recent decades have seen a reversal of critical views of the play – perhaps paralleling our increasing tolerance for violence.
The current production at the Clarence Brown Theatre is directed by John Sipes, UT Associate Professor, who has spent his career directing Shakespeare productions across the country. The role of Titus is played by Kurt Rhoads, an actor with numerous television and Shakespeare credits, and the role of Tamora is played by Carol Halstead. Carol has appeared on Broadway, off Broadway in numerous plays and on television and in film.
The play does not waste time in moving into the action. Two sons quarrel over the Roman throne only to have it hand to Titus who just returned home from vanquishing the Goths. He executes the son of his enemy in revenge, raising the young man’s boiled entrails to the sky. He turns down the throne, agrees to a marriage of his daughter which he does not want and kills his own son in short order. With that five minutes passed, the play really gets underway.
Whether the ensuing cycles of death, rape, mutilation and revenge are gratuitous, I’ll leave for you to debate with Mr. Shakespeare. That the play is riveting, there can be no debate. Staged from a stark set with beautiful costuming, not a moment or motion is wasted. Carol Halstead likened it to Game of Thrones, suggesting if you like the popular series, you’ll feel at home in front of this production.
My friend Alan Sherrod should have a proper review in this week’s issue of the Knoxville Mercury and you’ll find it online within the next few hours. I’ll leave it to his professional analysis to discuss the quality of the production. I’ll simply say that it had my attention from the first minute – and I’ll add that it is easy to follow even for those with limited background about the play.
It’s a regret to me that in so many respects there is a disconnect between downtown and UT in a number of respects. UT offers a wide range of productions, readings, lectures and performances which are available to the general public and which greatly enhance our cultural fabric. I will try to highlight more of these in coming months and I would encourage you to notice them on the events calendar every Sunday as I’m including as many as I can locate (one of the problems is a lack of a central UT calendar).
The Clarence Brown, in particular, is a great community asset and an amenity to downtown living. It is a lengthy, but manageable, walk from downtown when the weather is good and I’ve never been disappointed in the quality of a production I’ve seen there and Urban Woman and I have attended shows there off-and-on since the 1980s.