The Grand Guignol
Saturday I saw the opening night performance of Mondo Andronicus by The Molotov Theatre Group. Before I give a review of the play, let me explain a little bit about what Mondo Andronicus is.
What they have done is taken Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s most shocking and violent play, and performed it in the style of a Grand Guignol. The Grand Guignol is defined in the “literary Dictionary” as:
“Grand Guignol [grahn gween‐yol], a popular French form of melodrama featuring bloody murders, rapes, and other sensational outrages, presented in lurid and gruesome detail…The term is now often applied to horror movies…”
I think this explanation is most appropriate, since it defines Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to a tee. As a matter of fact if you look up Grand Guignol in Wikipedia it even mentions Titus Andronicus in the very first paragraph.
I’d seen Titus performed at the Blackfriars by the American Shakespeare Center during the fall 2009 season, and found the play, even as performed by the ASC, somewhat shocking. After which I read the play, and then found myself ruminating on the Evils in Shakespeare’s plays by focusing on Aaron the Moor from Titus in one of my blog posts.
The Playbill Cafe
The play takes place in the small 60 person theater at the Playbill Cafe in Washington D.C. Dark goth metal was playing over the sound system as I found my seat. The crowd filing in after me appeared to be from every walk of life, including the “Mom and Pop” next door neighbor type, to some theater people I’d recognized from other Shakespearean productions. I sat in the second row by the aisle, and started talking to some people around me. Someone joked, that if I was lucky someone would sit in front of me so I wouldn’t get splatter with too much blood.
Then the lights went down, and a new dark chorus of music spilled from the speakers. Titus played by the “Goremeister” Alex Zavistovich appeared on stage and the play commenced. I don’t want to give away the details of the performance. That’s for you to see, if you’re brave enough. I will say that the acting was amazingly better than I thought it would be. I expected “Shock Theater” camp, and what I got was a very serious and professional production of Titus. They had condensed Titus down to 60 minutes to its barest core, stripping out much of the text to focus on the emotional darkness within the play. It was raw, it was brutal, and it was severe.
Being as close to the stage as I was, I could see the sweat on an actors face. So when I tell you that JaBen Early, who played Aaron, contorted his face to look diabolical, I mean he looked like pure evil. And Jenny Donovan, who looked so beautiful as Lavinia in the beginning, showed the definition of utter despair in the hoplessness she displayed in her eyes towards the end. All I could imagine was they must have had an acting coach that focused exclusively on presenting our darkest horrors though facial expression.
Each moment of savagery and brutality were presented in a twisted and realistic manner, using stagecraft to make these acts of violence appear as real as possible. Blood flowed freely, and in one disgusting act, I felt the drops of splattered blood on my face, (a few drops mind you, don’t worry, no one was drenched).
So’ after reading this review, I’ll let you decide if this play is recommended for you or not. Mondo Andronicus is a play that focuses on the darkness of the human soul, and takes the literal text of Titus Andronicus to it’s most extreme, realistic, and brutal interpretation.
Mondo Andronicus, now thru April 3. See their website for details: The Molotov Theatre Group
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