John Farmanesh-Bocca’s Titus Redux is William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus like you’ve never seen it before.  Yes, there’s still rape, mutilation, and two boys cooked in a pie, and much of Shakespeare’s original dialog remains intact. Still, from the moment Tamora responds to Titus’s “I give him you, the noblest that survives, the eldest son of this distressed queen,” with a very contemporary “Fuck you! You stubborn pigheaded asshole,” you know you’re in for something different.


Actually one’s first inkling that “This is not your grandfather’s Titus” occurs even before that, at lights up. The upstage wall of the Kirk Douglas Theatre stage has been turned into a movie screen on which we watch gorgeously shot film footage of flag-draped coffins returning to U.S., the ashes of a dead soldier being carried down a suburban street by a general in uniform, signs proclaiming “Welcome Home Daddy,” and sons shining shoes in preparation for their father’s return.
Gone from Shakespeare’s original are over half of Titus Andronicus’s characters including Saturninus, Bassianus, and all but one of Titus’s offspring, their storylines either eliminated or assigned to other characters. The enemy Goths are now the enemy Afghans, Titus is an American military officer, Tamora has become Mrs. Titus, and their blended Brady Bunch family now consists of the couple, his daughter Lavinia and her sons Demetrius and Chiron.

Adding to the “something new” factor is Farmanesh-Bocca’s exciting choreography/fight choreography, which has shirtless Demetrius and Chiron wrestling atop the family dining table, followed by an equally shirtless and buff Titus taking on the winner.  Even more strenuous and athletic is a combat flashback ballet, complete with automatic weapons and a driving, pulsating rock score background. In another sequence, Tamora and her sons arrive, per Shakespeare’s original, as “Revenge,” “Rape,” and “Murder,” but in the guise here of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin with comic book-style moves and POW!s projected behind them. The production even ends with a dance number, a Skip-To-My-Lou jig to the strains of “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, with the entire cast waving flags as a ticker tape parade plays on the screen behind them.

Did I say this Titus Andronicus was different?


In less talented hands than Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble’s Farmanesh-Bocca’s (working in collaboration with Circus Theatrical’s Jack Stehlin), Titus Redux could easily have become what a friend of mine likes to call “one hot mess.”  Fortunately, talent there is in abundance, and though some of the still convoluted plot may prove confusing, and a two-hour running time is too long not to be interrupted with an intermission, all in all Titus Redux makes for an often thrilling, frequently highly entertaining evening of multimedia theater.

Titus Redux gives Farmanesh-Bocca ample opportunity to prove himself a Jack Of All Trades—and a master of them as well.  Not only has he conceived, choreographed, and directed the production, he is co-sound designer (with Adam Phalen), director and editor of the film sequences, and (as John F. Bocca) undertakes the role of Aaron as well.

The production moves seamlessly from live action to film and back again. There’s a spot-on (and very amusing) TV commercial for politician Marcus Andronicus (“I’m Marcus Andronicus and I have approved this message”) followed by a sequence which has Titus jogging on film to Peggy Lee’s “It’s A Good Day,” then arriving live on stage, hose in hand, to water his front lawn. 

As choreographer, Farmanesh-Bocca has created a graceful pas-de-deux between Aaron and Tamora, an acrobatic, athletically choreographed sequence where Demetrius and Chiron attack, rape, and mutilate Lavinia, and the aforementioned combat ballet, complete with explosions and flashing strobe lights courtesy of lighting designer John Rousseau. If you haven’t already guessed, there’s a very Grand Guignol air to the proceedings that may be a bit much for some, but is done with such flair that this normally squeamish reviewer—excuse the pun—ate it up. Expect severed hands and heads, bloodied faces, and initials written with bloody stumps.

If all this might appear to be a case of style over substance, then Stehlin’s towering performance in the title role alone will soon set skeptics straight.  Not only is Stehlin a consummate Shakespearean, he has the athletic prowess of a man half his age, as fight scenes opposite talented, sexy actor/dancers Vincent Cardinale and Dash Pepin (a dynamic Demetrius & Chiron) make perfectly clear.  

Brenda Strong, of TV’s Desperate Housewives (she’s the dead one), proves herself far more than a lovely voice(over) as Tamora, demonstrating considerable Shakespeare chops as well as the grace—and long legs—of a trained dancer.  As Lavinia, Margeaux J. London (formerly Jennifer Landon) proves that the three consecutive daytime Emmys she won in 2006, 7, and 8 on As The World Turns were no fluke. Since much of Lavinia’s stage time is spent tongueless, London does most of her acting with face and eyes, to often heartbreaking effect. In an early scene, London reveals a husky, haunting singing voice as well. Nicholas Hormann makes for a fine Marcus Andronicus, and Bocca (as actor) makes a strong dramatic impression in the role of Aaron.

There’s very little to Kitty Rose’s set design—a dining room table and chairs on an otherwise bare stage, but Titus Redux isn’t about a fancy stage setting. On the other hand, Allison Leach’s costume designs do much to establish the mood of the production, from contemporary military uniforms to comic book superhero costumes to Strong’s Donna Reed-style shirtwaists. Farmanesh-Bocca/Phalen’s sound design is a quite spectacular blend of orchestral background music, rock songs, and sound effects, particularly as heard through the Kirk Douglas’s state-of-the-art sound system.  Others behind the scenes include Jason Collins (special F/X), Michael Buffo (props), James Skylar (director of photography), fight captain/assistant choreographer Pepin, dance captain/assistant choreographer Cardinale, assistant choreographer Jones Welsh, and stage manager Lily Garrison.

Titus Redux may not be for diehard Shakespeare purists, but for those willing and eager to take a walk on the wilder side of the Bard, it makes for an often thrilling end-of-summer theatrical extravaganza. 

Circus Theatricals and Not Man Apart at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.


–Steven Stanley
August 29, 2010
                                                                       Photos: Ed Krieger

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