A dish best eaten cold


Titus Andronicus has a reputation as Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, with a body count of atrocities that includes at least three hands, two heads, and one tongue lopped off. Throw in a live burial, a rape, two sons baked in a pie, and a final scene that ends with all the major players dead, and keeping track of the carnage is a challenge.

Adding to the challenge in the current Court Theatre version, adapted and directed by Court artistic director Charles Newell, the audience finds itself watching a play-within-a-play, with Shakespeare’s tragedy staged as an initiation rite for new members of an elite men’s club. Scripts get handed out and the “players” stumble over their first lines, dueling with silverware. The death that starts the revenge cycle rolling—the ritual slaughter of the defeated Queen of the Goths' eldest son by the Roman general Titus—plays almost as slapstick. But with the death, payback time begins, and as Queen Tamora and her Moor lover, Aaron, fight back, the mood shifts, and the consequences start piling up.

The set is gleaming and multifaceted, the acting strong, and the food for thought almost too plentiful. At the end of the two-hour, intermission-less production, the opening-night audience seemed winded. But, as Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones noted in his review, “This one will have the denizens of the University of Chicago buzzing. And inclined to stay away from pie.”

Titus Andronicus runs through February 10. Next up: Newell directs Carousel.


Photos: The rape of Titus's daughter, Lavinia (Elizabeth Ledo), is only one of many acts of revenge plotted against the Roman general by the Goths' queen Tamora (Hollis Resnick) and the Moor Aaron (Philip James Brandon). Court Theatre photos by Michael Brosilow.

January 25, 2008