By Mary Boyle
Voices Found Repertory is a relatively new and small theatre company in Milwaukee with a strong and dedicated focus on classical works, particularly by Shakespeare (their inaugural 2016/17 season consisted of no less than five of the Bard's works). Now in their third season, the troupe takes on the Bard's bloodiest, most violent play: Titus Andronicus.
The tale is inspired by one of Ovid's Metamorphoses stories, Procne and Philomel, which is actually referenced in the play. In the Bard's version, Titus Andronicus (Maya Danks) is a soldier and hero of Rome, returning home from war with the Goths. His prisoners are the Queen of the Goths, Tamora (Robin Lewis), and three of her sons. Despite Tamora's pleading, Titus sacrifices her firstborn son, and she and her two remaining sons, Chiron (Donald Kozinski) and Demetrius (Thomas Sebald), vow to get their revenge. As it happens, Rome is in need of a new emperor, and Bassianus (Robert Torres), who is promised to Titus's daughter, Lavinia (Alexis Furseth), loses to Saturninus (Kyle Conner). Saturninus claims Lavinia for his bride and Titus agrees, but Bassianus runs off with Lavinia, so Saturninus chooses Tamora, instead. With the help of her servant and lover, a Moor named Aaron (Brittany Faye Byrnes), and her two sons, Tamora sets about taking her revenge against Titus Andronicus, who goes from a hero to "the woefullest man to ever live in Rome."
Unlike Shakespeare's other tragedies, Titus has almost no humor to balance the non-stop horrors of this intense and bloody tale, and this production does not spare the blood — the tiny, sparse stage at the Underground Collaborative is downright sticky with it by the play's end, and yet they manage to keep it from becoming trite or farcical. Though the play is well-cast and admirably acted, it's not difficult to understand why this particular tale is rarely told; on the other hand, the rare chance to see it performed is a large part of its appeal. The sparse staging works, but they could have gone farther — I would have preferred to see the production look more like their video teaser, with the actors and stage all in black, stark and modern. Still, a worthy telling of an ancient tale.
Directed by Hannah Kubiak, Titus Andronicus runs through October 7th at the Underground Collaborative, located at 161 W. Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee in the basement of the Grand Avenue Mall. This play contains violence and mature themes, and is not recommended for anyone under the age of 16. Tickets are $12 and available for purchase at https://vfrtitus.brownpapertickets.com/. For more information about Voices Found Repertory, visit their website at www.voicesfoundrep.com.