CSC Presents 15th Century Slasher “Titus Andronicus” Through a Modern Lens

Review by Nathan Top of “Titus Andronicus”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

I am not normally a fan of Shakespearian plays, generally because most of my experience with them has been mediocre casts botching the language, dragging the pace, and failing to achieve any layers of subtext. 

Darnell Pierre Benjamin and Miranda McGee in CSC’s “Titus Andronicus”

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of “Titus Andronicus” is what a Shakespeare play should be: everything that a classic play is meant to be for the 21st century.

Set in the imaginative world of steampunk ancient Rome, “Titus Andronicus” chronicles the bloody exploits of a revenge-seeking title character. Upon returning triumphant from wars against the Goths, General Andronicus is nominated emperor by his brother Marcus. Andronicus relinquishes the title to the slithering, power-hungry Saturninus and, to avenge his fallen sons in the war, sacrifices the hostage Alarbus, eldest son of the Goth queen Tamora. These two decisions begin a gruesome chain reaction of events, ultimately leading to a surprising yet inevitable tragic conclusion.

The costumes and set reflect a 1950-60s sci-fi steampunk world, reminiscent of what one might find in a Jules Verne novel. Resident costume designer Rainy Edwards has imagined several evocative ensembles for the cast, a few of the most memorable including the use of glow sticks. The use of fur, patches, and goggles adds color to the world and smartly delineates the hierarchy of characters right from the start of the show. I just hope they can get all of that fake blood out of the costumes before tomorrow’s show.

Designed by the inventive Justen N. Locke, the set implies a large world for the stage, transporting the audience from location to location with the use of a few crucial pieces for each. The large scaffolding of a set also contains some surprises for the audience, one of which caused them to burst into claps of surprised amusement upon the reveal. I don’t think I have ever seen a production where the set actually stole the show before. The set was especially effective when combined use of several short expository split-reelesque films designed by Ryan Lewis and transitional music choices, which helped the show to strike a balance between the canyon of whimsical and eerie. 

As the titular character, Jim Hopkins gives a haunting portrayal of a man descending into madness, filling each moment with nuance all the way up until the shocking final scene. Justin McCombs (Saturninus) elegantly captures the narcissistic and self-serving Saturnius while Miranda McGee, playing the fallen queen Tamora, balances well-paced humor with relentless drive for bloodshed. Patrick Earl Phillips and Jude Walker, playing Demetrius and Chiron, respectively, embrace the strong physicality of their characters while Darnell Pierre Benjamin (Aaron the Moor) effectively captures the audience’s attention with his sharp and poignant monologues.

Possibly the funniest tragedy I have ever witnessed, the mood fluxuates along a wide spectrum of emotion. Funny, scary, and, at times, sincerely heartbreaking, “Titus Andronicus” is an emotional rollercoaster. Throughout the show, I found myself laughing, gasping, and wincing as the cast, with seeming effortlessness, breezed through a near two and a half hours of stage time. I have officially been converted to gospel Shakespeare as long as Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is putting on the show.  “Titus Andronicus” plays through November 2nd. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling (513)381-2273.