REVIEW | ‘Titus’ a chilling success

A figure is lying flat on the floor of the Lilly Hall Blackbox Theater, his eyes fixed on the ceiling.

He rises, and his dark, heavily made-up eyes are illuminated as he walks through the audience and takes a seat on the back riser. He seems tired, old and gaunt.

After a minute in the seat, he lifts and drags himself back to the stage, taking his place back on the floor.

Cue a blackout and a film montage featuring home movies and horror flicks (including “Nosferatu”), and the senior-directed play “Titus” has begun.

“Titus,” which ran Friday and Saturday, was senior theatre majors Quinn Leary and Hali Bickford’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.”

The play certainly had its strengths, including great acting and a meticulously-crafted interpretation.

The artistic direction of the play was particularly strong.

From the set, with its hanging sheets of fabric and plastic (like black garbage bags) to the modern and gothic costumes, the elements of the play fit seamlessly together.

The dark sections of the story, which revolve around themes of violence and revenge, were handled maturely.

Titus Andronicus’ daughter Lavinia (junior Alaina Bartkowiak) is raped and mutilated in the story.

The presentation was graphic—the audience watched Lavinia get manhandled and stripped as she was forced to participate in a tango.

The full force, however, was stayed—when Lavinia’s hands and tongue were removed, it was portrayed by covering her mouth with white tape marked with an “X” and wrapping her arms behind her back in Saran Wrap.

This tasteful mixing of graphic presentation and artistic implication is commendable and was present throughout the performance.

The acting, lighting and artistic design were probably the best I have seen in a student-run theatre production at Butler University.

As with any production, student or professional, some elements do not come across well.

The theatre department is notorious for bad sound editing. In “Titus,” the voice-overs worked better than in most productions, but the poor music editing was egregious.

The music was appropriate to each scene but was abruptly chopped when the scene ended without fading away or reaching a conclusive cadence.

Many scenes were brave and compelling. In one scene, the theater was in total darkness and the story was told completely through acoustic sounds.

Other scenes fell flat.

One of the inner scenes involved Titus (Leary) playing cards with his nemesis Tamora and her two sons.

The scene was a sloppy “seam,” so to speak, in the abridging of the story. It lacked any real sense of craft and felt contrived.

Another scene portrayed Titus explaining to his daughter how he intended to kill her attackers. Lavinia was still dressed in her post-rape costume—just her underwear—with a black hat and veil.

Having Lavinia still in a state of undress made Titus—and, indeed, the director—seem mocking and disrespectful of Lavinia’s injuries.

Overall, though, the play was incredible.

Bartkowiak and Leary in particular gave remarkable performances.

The interpretation was modern and engaging and presented Shakespeare in a brave and novel way while maintaining integrity to the classic story.

Bickford, Leary and all who collaborated in the performances should be proud to have presented a play equal in caliber to many of the main-stage theatre productions here—and greater than some in recent memory.