Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Titus Andronicus & Bullet Time

I'm preparing to play Titus and feeling daunted by the actor traps awaiting me--admittedly, traps into which I may have a habit of stepping regardless of the play, most particularly, if I'm not careful I may shmact in highly emotional moments (e.g., my least effective moments as Malvolio were the prison and Act V confrontation with Olivia.)  I want to play Titus as fully charged and yet let the verse do most of the work.  Titus' energy must remain at least 51% intellectual as do all of Shakespeare's characters (if for no other reason than they speak what they feel as they feel it and the audience must be able to understand them.)

It seems to me that for Titus to invite the audience into accepting the register in which the play is expressed--operatic, condensed, and most of all fairy tale-like--one must find humor and a hint of both fraternal and fatherly love in Titus in Act I (I'm pulling a lot from Alan Dessen in his Titus Andronicus from the Shakespeare in Performance series.)  The play is going to work if the audience feels permission to laugh; if they feel permission, then the inevitable laughter at famously awkward moments will support, rather than undermine, the tragedy.  Also, the audience is going to better accept Titus' sudden turn into grief if they've at least heard early on the possibility that he could love his sons as much as he loves Rome.  So, for instance, the lines beginning, "Titus, unkind and careless of thine own..." are a necessary aside to himself (rather than a public rhetorical flourish.)  If we don't see this hint of feeling for others his sudden grief later plays as ridiculous.  It also seems to me that Titus' more florid imagery in III.1 is necessary for the audience to hear so they can experience his blackly war-smashed heart opening to personal grief he's long suppressed.  What appears to be excessive rhetoric easily cut may in fact be necessary for providing the audience dramatic space and time to keep up with Titus.  Titus' imagery and Marcus' peroration of grief at his first sight of Livinia may be 'bullet-time' acting--a split second's emotional experience exploded into five minutes of straight talk--but what would The Matrix be without bullet time, which was unnecessary for the plot, but essential to the story?

The play's action is so highly condensed--far more so than the five great tragedies by Shakespeare with which we're most familiar--that regardless of the humor or latent love found in Titus at the top of the show audiences may still have trouble swallowing it; this may be even more true with a relatively heavy cut of the play, which we're doing.  So, what may help more than anything else, is to have actors with charisma; who can act with a twinkle in the eye but without cloying irony.

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