February 2, 2015

How many times can the poor red-nosed Clown be killed? In New York Shakespeare Exchange’s electric production of Titus Andronicus, at Here, the Clown (Kerry Kastin) is fatally stabbed repeatedly, standing in for several doomed characters. One of them is the nurse forced to announce that the white emperor’s white wife has just given birth to a black child. (Yes, that’s the way Shakespeare wrote that subplot in the 1500s.) In the Shakespearean canon, Titus Andronicus is singular: It’s the one in which the queen finds out that the main ingredient in the meat pie she’s eating is her sons. It’s the one with the most gore. The program credits a fight choreographer (Alicia Rodis), as well as someone in charge of “violence design” (Cassie Dorland). But the characters who commit these murders, rapes and mutilations (which are blessedly stylized in this staging) have their reasons. Titus (the excellent Brendan Averett), a beloved Roman general just home from war with the Goths, makes his first mistake by refusing to become emperor. That job belongs to Saturninus (Vince Gatton), he insists. Saturninus repays him by announcing that he will marry Titus’ radiant daughter, Lavinia (Kate Lydic). When Saturninus’ cute younger brother, Bassianus (Adam Kezele), reminds everyone that he’s already engaged to Lavinia, Saturninus says, O.K., I’ll just marry this glamorous prisoner of war that Titus has brought me: Tamora, Queen of the Goths (the fabulous Gretchen Egolf).