Review: Rowan’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ brings to life (or death) one of Shakespeare’s darkest tales (Spoilers)


This past weekend, Rowan put on one of William Shakespeare’s lesser known works: “Titus Andronicus,” in Tohill Theater, Bunce Hall. The dazzling, futuristic set Rowan used for the show, meant to take place during the fall of Rome, perhaps left a viewer confused at first, but turned out to be a perfect touch.

For a show that can be complicated and leave audience members wondering who’s bad, who’s good and who’s neutral, its actors and actresses each astutely assumed their roles, exhibiting strong presences and mannerisms to portray their characters.

The play follows the tale of Titus Andronicus (Brian Anthony Wilson) who returns from fighting in the war for 10 years. He only has four remaining living sons. He has captured Queen of Goths Tamora (Emily Hoffen), her daughters and Aaron the Moor (Brandon Castillo), enemies to the Romans. In order to comply with Roman law, Tamora sacrifices her eldest son but vows to take revenge on Andronicus.

She becomes empress by marrying the new emperor Saturninus (Reise Bridgers). She arranges with Aaron to have Titus’ two sons framed for the murder of Bassianus (Matthew Basen), the emperor’s brother. After she remains unsatisfied, she has her daughters rape Lavinia (Kristie Ecke), Andronicus’ daughter. Her daughters do so, and cut off her hands and tongue. The events seemingly make Andronicus mad. 

Unsatisfied, Tamora continues her revenge attempt. Andronicus, only having pretended to be mad, tricks her, captures her daughters, kills them and makes them into pie. He feeds this pie to Tamora in the final scene – in which he kills Tamora and Lavinia, his own daughter, from the shame of being raped.

Many killings ensue, including Andronicus. Lucius (Andrew Snellen), Andronicus’ only son, becomes the new emperor of Rome.

Although each cast member made worthy contributions to this complicated, movement-heavy show, a few are especially worth noting.

Wilson played Andronicus with fervor – his movements for the character were exact, calculated and moving. He played Andronicus’ feigned madness believably, and his intelligence sneakily. Wilson was an outside, professional actor Rowan hired to act in the role due to its intensity.

It is hard to grow to like Tamora, and Hoffen demonstrated this beautifully. Tamora is clearly mad – and although her motives are bad, Hoffen made them believable and understandable, however horrid.

Aaron, played by Castillo, surprisingly provided some comic relief in the otherwise dark, morbid production. Castillo played up Aaron’s cunning nature expertly – it is difficult to learn to trust Aaron throughout the show. Castillo made it clear Aaron mostly does things for his own gain.

For Lavinia, who loses her voice (and hands), and thus spends much of the play silent and relying only on actions, Ecke is phenomenal. She maintained an incredible amount of stage presence and delivered Lavinia’s emotions without words. The character is clearly in consistent pain since her rape, and Ecke clearly knows this and embraced the woes of her character. Her role is heartbreaking.

Director Dan Kern did an incredible job putting together this show, all the way down to incredible scene changes and smooth interactions between characters, even in little moments. This review would be incomplete without admiring the work of the lighting designers, who set the mood well for the show, and the stage managers, who allowed the play to truly come alive.

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    • While that is the way the play was originally written, during Rowan’s production, Tamora had two daughters, not sons.