Saturday, March 13, 2010

At the Theatre: Molotov's "Mondo Andronicus"

"Titus Andronicus" is one Shakespeare play that gets no respect. Probably the Bard's earliest tragedy, it's like an Elizabethan version of Dario Argento. There's murder, rape, mutilation, revenge, and loads of other fun stuff. But the Victorians shunned it and even today many scholars and theatrical types sniff at it, either feeling it's the work of a young man desperate for a hit, or not the work of Shakespeare at all.

Of course, none of that bothers DC's resident Grand Guignol company, Molotov Theatre Group, which has launched "MONDO ANDRONICUS," the latest glorious assault on good taste and refined sensibilities.

(Now, here at Dust & Corruption, we do try to be civilized and gentlemanly, but every so often, you have to say, what the fuck, and wallow in gore and filth. So, let's see some shit, shall we?)

Walking in, you're alerted to the tone right away. The stage set is basically a graffiti-covered back alley, with Roman and Goth competing like gangs. You can almost smell a reeking trash scent, and this does a good job of setting the tone for the show.

It's the tale of Roman general Titus Andronicus, who returns to Rome triumphant after battling the Goths, bringing with him Tamora, the Queen of the Goths (and no, I'm not talking about emo kids dressed up like vampires) and her sons. He sacrifices one of her sons, despite her pleas, seeing this as his religious duty after the deaths of some of his own sons in the battles. Tamora naturally vows revenge, and ends up marrying the new emperor. She arranges for her surviving sons to rape and mutilate Titus' daughter Lavinia, by cutting out her tongue and lopping off her hands. Tamora is also having an affair with the Moor Aaron, and bears a mixed-race baby. Of course, there's the somewhat famous climax that opens with Titus serving Tamora a pie with her own sons baked in it, that triggers a slaughter that leaves the stage littered with corpses.

Along the way there's a castration, the murder of a nun, assorted mutilations and murders, and onstage puking followed quickly by infanticide. Who could ask for anything more?

Alex Zavistovich is a burly presence as Titus, going a bit beyond the modern Tod Slaughter (that I dubbed him once before) and well portraying Titus' underlying bloodthirstiness and sense of duty to his government...until, of course, he goes off the deep end but manages to retain his cunning. Ty Hallmark is a great Tamora, going from concerned mother to vengeful harpy with full conviction. JaBen Early is a great rapacious Aaron, a creature of pure id. Jenny Donovan is appropriately innocent and tragic as Lavinia, but also gives a glimpse of her as the playful and loving daughter. Cyle Durkee is a blast, bouncing between the roles of Saturninus and Demetrius and giving them both their own personalities. The same is true of the rest of the cast, who all had to do double-duty; Luke Cieslewicz as Bassianus and Chiron, Kevin Finkelstein as Alarbus and Lucius, and Aaron Tone as Quintus and Marcus.

Lucas Maloney's direction keeps things going and is deft and smart. He knows just how much to suggest and how much to show, so that what's left to your imaginations is pretty damn vivid. And stage manager Juely Siegel was excellent at keeping things together and working.

There's a lot that one could make of this...that the cycling war of revenge is a demonstration of the madness of war, or the loss of humanity, or whatever. But that's not what you go to a Molotov show for. It's gore galore, with plenty of black comedy. Molotov cheerfully goes over the line, then turns around and pisses on it. And you'll be loving every second of it.

And...for more the intermission, you'll be afraid to leave your seat because they present a quick "Skinhead Hamlet" that is sidesplittingly funny. So hit the bathroom before the show!

"Mondo Andronicus" is playing until April 3, 2010, Wed-Sun at 8pm, at 1409 Playbill Cafe, 1409 14th St NW, Washington DC. Tickets are $20. Go see it if you can; this is good gory fun.

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