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Titus Andronicus ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
April 28, 2018 

Shakespeare’s first play, Titus Andronicus, was written for pure shock value. It’s considered a revenge play and his purpose was to get noticed and to one up his competition.  A sort of revenge of the playwright, if you will.  It worked.  In today’s world, it would probably be categorized in the fantasy genre along with Game of Thrones.  With fourteen murders, six severed limbs and two acts of cannibalism involving meat pies, there’s nothing tame about it.  It’s the most gruesome, grotesque Elizabethan potboiler ever conceived for a two-hour play.  Never a dull moment.

Scott Whalen and Dan Istrate with the ensemble in Titus Andronicus. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Synetic’s approach is to render the bloodiest scenes, bloodless and Shakespeare’s lines, wordless.  It is one of Synetic’s hallmarks.  By using reams of red silk, elbow-length red satin gloves and a stage bathed in vivid red spotlights during each murder (I lost count after the tenth), they have achieved all the thrill and all the horror without shedding a single drop of stage blood.

The play opens with a horde of Roman soldiers gripping their lances and galloping towards the audience at full tilt.  That they’re not actually riding horses is incidental – it’s visceral.   In one of the most thrilling productions this year, Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili has crafted an edge-of-your-seat interpretation of the classic that will blow your mind.

The story of King Titus is drenched in power struggles, betrayal, violence and intrigue.  They are all fighting for the crown.  It’s a deliciously complex battle of forces between the Goths, here intricately costumed by Erik Teague to reflect modern-day goths replete with metal-studded clothing, and the Romans, whose military toga-like costumes are exquisitely detailed.  The women wear diaphanous multi-pleated gowns come hell or high water and the courtiers sport faceless metallic masks.

Alex Mills, Irina Tsikurishvili, Irina Kavsadze, and Dallas Tolentino in Titus Andronicus. Photo by Brittany Diliberto

Titus is played magnificently by Philip Fletcher to Irina Tsikurishvili’s Tamora, Queen of the Goths in one of her finest performances to date.  The 15-member troupe is spectacular, especially Irina Kavsadze as Lavinia, Tori Bertocci as Marcia Andronicus and Audrey Tchoukoua as Aaron who does a torrid tango with the Queen.  Phil Charlwood’s massive rotating sets of monoliths and amorphous castle walls serve well to background the evil of their murderous deeds and the sounds of their clashing swords.

It’s impossible to describe the many crimes of passion and struggles for power.  Suffice it to say, they are fiercely intense and hyper imaginative with action that explodes at the speed of a super collider housed in an erupting volcano – all set to Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s fantastical sound track ranging from electronica to Gregorian and Phillip Glass to the interior of a wind tunnel.  It’s a well-orchestrated madness that can only be described as electrifying from the opening scene to the climax.

And though I won’t give away the banquet scene – remember the meat pies? – it's a stunner set to the flowery notes of carousel music.  Insider tip: Black Panther fans look for Titus to give the Wakanda salute.

Five stars.  Highly recommended.

With Chris Galindo as Lucius, Alex Mills as Chiron, Dan Istrate as Saturnius, Matt Stover as Quintus, Dallas Tolentino as Demetrius, Scott Whalen as Bassianus and Scott Turner as Alarbus.  Choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili, Sound Design by Thomas Sowers, Fight Choreography by Vato Tsikurishvili and Alex Mills.

Through May 27th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit online.

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