The inventive new Anam Cara Theatre production of the bloodiest of all of Shakespeare’s plays, Titus Andronicus, owes more than a slight nod to HBO’s Game of Thrones, and may hold the secrets to that show’s origins. Indeed, I spent a good part of the evening wondering if, perhaps, George R. R. Martin saw a production of Titus as a young man and was inspired by it.
The Toy Boat Community Art Space, in which the play is staged, is limiting in many ways, but such limits can bring out the best in those who are creative enough to embrace the challenges. Director Skyler Goff’s adaptation of the original text turns up the heat on the maiming, mutilating and various acts of aggression depicted.
The story is of Titus, an aging Army General who returns to Rome after 40 years of war. His desire for a peaceful retirement is quickly disrupted, thanks to the manipulations of one of his prisoners, Tamora, queen of the recently conquered Goths. Titus slays one of her sons as his final military act, despite her pleas for mercy. A new emperor is crowned and Tamora quickly weaves her way into his favor and ascends to power as a result. The revenge that Tamora exacts on Titus is gory. Eventually, two of his sons are framed for murder and executed, but not before Titus has his hand chopped off in an attempt to save them. Titus, who is perhaps driven mad by it all, turns the tables in an even more severe revenge plot that ends with murder and mayhem unlike anything you are likely to see on stage.
Garrett Funk, though far too young to play the title role, is one of the most powerful presences on stage. Ashleigh Millet is every ounce his equal as Tamora. Meda Thurston gives immense depth to Lavina, who spend most of the play as a mute and damaged survivor of the chaos. There are many standouts in this intentionally over-the-top show, including Ken Knight, Robert Edwards and Adrian Suskauer. Erin Hartley pulls some double duty and nearly steals the show with moments of levity as the messenger/clown, who brings off-kilter circus antics to the middle of the bloodbath. And, in a slight, potentially unsung role, Lilly Mills gives an enormously emotional performance as a young witness to it all.
Titus Andronicus runs only three more nights: Friday through Sunday, Aug. 15-17 at 8 p.m. $12.