When I read Titus Andronicus in a college class, it threw me for a loop. How could this gory, jokey, Stephen-King-esque story be a Shakespeare play? It's so ridiculously gross -- and so grossly ridiculous! Lavinia, her hands and tongue cut off, spends a portion of the play drenched in blood. At one point, she is put to work carrying her father's severed hand -- in her mouth. Later, Saturninius is served a pie made with the blood of his sons. I despaired of ever seeing this play on stage, because how could it possibly be performed?
This past Thursday night, I witnessed an all-female cast KICKING ASS in a production of Titus Andronicus at the Springs Ensemble Theater. The performance was everything I hoped for AND MORE. An all-female cast beating each other up, sword-fighting, pummeling each other on the floor, screaming for vengeance? Blood everywhere, messing up the costumes and requiring multiple mop-ups between scenes? (Seriously, the mop-up person deserved an award for her perseverance and efficiency.) The women playing Demetrius and Chiron were frighteningly -- and freeingly -- obscene, making repulsive rape jokes and generally behaving like curs. All the women were amazing.
Reading or watching any version of this play, you can't avoid feeling uneasy and uncomfortable and wrong. In my opinion, an all-woman cast improves the play, heightening its black humor and making it more watchable and enjoyable. Witnessing a simulated rape when both actors are women, when the "man" is a woman acting the part of a swaggering, repulsive, physically stronger character, put my mind in a whirl.
I thought I was digging the production, but I gotta tell ya, there were others who were even more into it. When Titus Andronicus achieved part one of his revenge, two people near me burst into applause!
Oh, and by the way, the Springs Ensemble Theater is a very small venue, similar to an off-off-off Broadway set-up. To get to your seat, you may have to walk across the performance space. This means that at the end of the show, before the final mop-up, you have to watch your step if you don't want to get fake blood on your shoes.
Sign me up for any and all female-only Shakespeare productions in the future. Since the plays were originally performed by all-male casts, I see every reason to reverse the gender bending in the 21st century.