The U.S. Naval Academy Masqueraders’ Titus Andronicus

The online gore-ometer measuring gallons of blood spilled in The U.S. Naval Academy Masqueraders’ production of Titus Andronicus reached five gallons after opening night. With nine onstage murders, one rape, six dismemberments and one incidence of cannibalism, the midshipmen were determined to milk Shakespeare’s bloodiest play for every drop.
    On Halloween weekend — as the players competed with the Academy’s annual Halloween concert and new Haunted Hospital — enthusiastic crowds lapping it up.
    Playing these barbaric Romans and Goths is the finest cast this troupe has assembled in my memory.
    In the title role of Titus Andronicus, general of Rome, Michael McPherson is a ruthless and rigid conquering hero, returning after a decade of war.
    With him in chains are the sultry queen of the Goths, Tamora (Jamie Moroney); her Moorish lover Aaron (Michael Foster); and her three sons. Titus executes the eldest son in retribution for his 25 sons lost in battle. He then refuses the emperor’s crown proffered by a grateful public, demurring to the dead emperor’s eldest, Saturninus (James Frevola). Passed over is the younger and fairer brother Bassanius (Jonathan Lucas), who is secretly engaged to Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Katie MacVarish).
    When Lavinia refuses Saturninus’ marriage proposal to flee with Bassianus, aided by her four surviving brothers, Titus is so angry he kills one of his own offending sons. Saturninus is then free to follow his lust and take the queen of the Goths as his bride. The embittered new empress vows to destroy Titus and his family with the help of her two ruthless sons, Demetrius (Michael Donovan) and Chiron (Eric Lies).
    Throughout the murder and mayhem that follow, a breath of fresh air flows from Jenn Underhill, who acts the traditionally male role of Tribune Marca Andronicus, Titus’ sibling and counselor as well as the play’s narrator.
    It’s a brilliant decision on Director Christy Stanlake’s decision to cast Marca in the role of Marcus to lend sisterly empathy to the scene of Lavinia’s rape and disfigurement by Demetrius and Chiron.
    Better still is her addition of a catwalk to the stage. Billed as a space where physical characters can retreat to soliloquize, it enables actors to interact with their audience. It’s also the perfect solution to Mahan Hall’s persistent acoustic problems. Under the room’s domed ceiling, every word is crystal clear. Add to that the staggering dramatic persona of an actor like Foster —playing Aaron — and the effect is energizing.
    To see warriors playing warriors, to hear spirited campaign speeches by ancient politicos and chanted soliloquies by tortured souls is a multi-sensory treat enhanced by creative staging that places cast members in the audience, and exotic costumes that blend such fabrics as furs, fisherman’s netting and brocades.
    The gore is so graphic, however, that it seems comic at times, sending the young audience into fits of laughter at the most inappropriate moments. Another drawback is the show’s length. Two and three-quarter hours is too long for theatergoers, even Shakespeare lovers.
    Still, this is an ambitious production well executed, and I heartily recommend it for young adults who are not squeamish.

Playing thru Nov. 4: FSa 8pm, Su 2pm at U.S. Naval Academy’s Mahan Hall. Annapolis. Carry photo ID and enter by foot thru Gate 3 or shuttle from Naval Academy Stadium. Parking $3; Shuttle free. $10 w/discounts; rsvp. 410-293-TIXS.