‘Andronicus’ Fails in Titanic Fashion

If Titus Andronicus is among Shakespeare’s least heralded plays in terms of dramatic substance, it generally provides gripping, visceral entertainment with its abundant treachery, violence and dismemberment. In other words, it could be the perfect respite for the overworked Harvard student. It is diappointing, then, that the current Loeb Mainstage production, under the direction of Anthony J. Gabriele ’03, fails to do justice to even the play’s most obvious charms in his amateurish and misguided presentation.

A plot summary is unnecessary, as the show’s appeal has never been about the plot—and locating a plot in this mess of a Mainstage is not worth the effort. Instead, it might be better to pay more attention to what the show attempts to pay attention to: the visual aesthetic. This is made confoundingly difficult, however, by the almost comically dismal lighting. In order to set what seems like an intended an aura of doom and gloom, the lighting plot has virtually no light. The effect doesn’t enhance the mood; it does, though, enhance squinting.

From what can be glimpsed of the costume design, some interesting choices in anachronistic and semi-nude dress have been made. The reason for the choices is never made apparent by the production. The guess is that they were supposed to look cool but, again because of the lighting, it’s hard to tell.

Titus is not completely lacking in artistic merit, however. In general, the actors turn in quite stellar performances. Most praiseworthy is David N. Huyssen ’02, who is captivating in the title role. His maturity and composure hold the production together. As he lingers agonizingly between quiet despair and stentorian wrath, he is monstrously sympathetic. One cannot help but feel pity and anger for his horrible situation and bewildering deeds.

Another noteworthy performance is delivered by Caleb I. Franklin ’05 as Aaron. His first substantial appearance, coming at the beginning of the production’s second act, provides the show with a much needed spark. Franklin possesses an energy and confidence which is almost enough to resurrect the dreary production and pull interest back to the stage. The most disappointing part of Franklin’s performance is that it can’t be longer, for when he departs the stage, the lethargy soon returns.


The more one watches the production, the more it is apparent that any enjoyment derived comes from the performers, all of whom might be far more enjoyable in a better-apportioned piece of theater. One salient example is Julie L. Rattey ’02, who is so touching as Lavinia, that one wishes her hands and tongue might not have been removed and that she could remain to charm the audience with her abundant talent. Then again, performers without limbs or tongues seem an apt metaphor for this Titus—no matter how hard they try, the actors have been handicapped by the production surrounding them.

It is maddening to attempt to understand why an audience has been subjected to this piecemeal adaptation. Surely a production this bad could not come about except for the failing of some grand vision, yet nowhere in this ramshackle mess are even the traces of such a vision apparent. Newly added orgies and bloodshed? Check. Vision? Still looking.

Titus Andronicus is not an easy play to tackle. When a show is most present in the public consciousness from a recent film version remarkable for its breathtaking visuals, there’s much to live up to, both in terms of respecting the text and creating something aesthetically memorable. Perhaps that pressure is what inspired this production. Nevertheless, the answer to what the director was searching for remains—much like the arbitrarily costumed actors beneath the dim lights—elusive.


Titus Andronicus

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Anthony J. Gabriele ’03

Produced by Catharina E. Lavers ’02, Jeremy B. Reff ’04 and Nicole C. Ruiz ’02