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The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey puts on a dark ‘Titus Andronicus’

A show that is anything but fun for all families, William Shakespeare’s, ‘Titus Andronicus,’ premiered on  July 18 at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey that is located on the campus of Drew University in Madison.

The dark and chilling tale of revenge, deceit and murder were all relevant in the production of Titus Andronicus, which was performed by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey for the first time in over 30 years.

Set towards the end of the Roman Empire, the play opens following the death of the Roman emperor and his two sons after a battle against the Goths, which has lasted for the last 10 years. Returning from battle, Titus Andronicus (Bruce Cromer) arrives victorious, and with prisoners as well.

Titus’ prisoners included the Queen of the Goths, Tamora (Vanessa Morosco) and her three sons, Alarbus (Brett Comer), Demetrius (Torsten Johnson), Chiron (Quentin McCuiston), as well as her secret lover, Aaron the Moor (Chris White).

To avenge the deaths of the former Roman Emperor and his two sons, Titus plans to kill Tamora’s eldest son, Alarbus. Tamora who begs for Titus to spare him, is left feeling vengeful as Titus does not hear her pleas. Tamora, along with her two sons and the Moor, vow to get revenge on Titus and his family.

Eventually, Titus is asked to take the throne, but refuses because he does not feel that he is fit to rule. Titus elects that Saturninus (Benjamin Eakeley), the eldest of the former emperor’s two remaining sons, take the throne. Saturninus is immediately elected as emperor.

Needing a bride, Saturninus wants to marry Titus’ daughter, Lavinia (Fiona Robberson). Though, Lavinia is already betrothed to Saturninus’ brother, Bassianus (Oliver Archibald).

Bassianus refuses to give up his love, Lavinia. Titus’ four sons tell him that the betrothal is still legitimate under Roman law. Titus accuses them of treason and chases after Bassianus as he and Lavinia try to run away. His four sons trying to stop him lead to Titus accidentally murdering his youngest son, Mutius (Emery Lawrence).

Saturninus denounces the entire Andronici family and then shockingly announces his pick for his bride. Tamora, Queen of the Goths.

Tamora asks Saturninus to pardon his brother, Bassianus and the Andronici family. Which he does, setting her plan into motion.

The next day, while out on the royal hunt, Queen Tamora sneaks off to be with her secret lover, Aaron the Moor. When, Bassianus and Lavinia happen upon the two in the midst of their thralls, Tamora calls upon her sons, Demetrius and Chiron to kill Bassianus.

Begging for her life as well, Lavinia pleas with Tamora for her life. Tamora already, was going to spare her, and tells Lavinia that she would never deprive her sons of her. Now begging Tamora to kill her, her two sons drag Lavinia into a cave to rape her. Making sure that she can never tell anyone what truly happened, they cut out her tongue and chop off her hands.

Writing a forged letter to Saturninus, Aaron of Moor frames Titus’ sons, Quintus (Braden Spear) and Martius (Jackson Knight Pierce) as the murderers of Bassianus.

Marcus (Robert Cuccioli), Titus’ brother, stumbles upon Lavinia in the woods and is immediately shocked by her state. Marcus decides he must take her to her father.

Aaron the Moor seeks out Titus to falsely tell him that Saturninus will spare his sons, Quintus and Martius, if either he, his brother Marcus or his eldest son, Lucius (Clark Scott Carmichael) chops of their hand and sends it to him.

Titus agrees to do it, and has Aaron chop off his hand. Giving it to Aaron, he eventually returns with the hand, along with Quintus’ and Martius’ heads in bags.

Titus now distraught and desperate to get revenge, the first act ends with him sending his last remaining son, Lucius to leave Rome and raise an army to return to overthrow the throne.

The set for the production was amazing. Giant sword blades were placed strategically around the ceiling of the stage and a giant Roman helmet was placed on the right side of the stage, lopsided and jutting out from the floor. Dry ice was pumped onto the stage and the theater was in a state of fog.

Costumes were very well done. The Romans were all in a mix of robes on top of suits. Which made them look modernly-authentic. While the Goths wore furs and chains and were branded with fake tattoos, looking somewhat like the Dothraki from Game of Thrones.

What was incredible acting and directing from all who took part in the production, was overshadowed by the darkness of the show.

Fiona Robberson gave a tremendous performance as Lavinia. It was so well done, that it truly looked as if she were being raped on stage. From the look on her face to her chilling, blood-curdling screams, it was really hard to watch.

I was not shocked to see several people get into their vehicles at intermission and leave before the conclusion of the show.

It is needless to say that this show is not for families and parents should be wary if they plan on bringing their families out for a night of theater.

‘Titus Andronicus,’ continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, 36 Madison Ave. Madison, through Aug. 5. www.shakespearenj.org. 973-408-5600.

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