Thursday, May 25, 2006

o earth, I will befriend thee more with rain

Getting to see Titus Andronicus on stage is a little like getting to see a solar eclipse. Everyone talks about it, but it never seems to really happen. And you have to be in the right place at the right time. Trust me when I tell you: last night we were in the right place at the right time.

Widely considered to be Shakespeare's worst play, Titus Andronicus is easily his goriest. There are 18 deaths in the play, most of which happen onstage. And not only do people die, but Willy contrived to have them die in the most gruesome ways. A woman has her hands chopped off and her tongue cut out, and is eventually smothered. Two errant men are hung upside down and gutted like pigs. Later they are baked into a pie and fed to their evil mother. Another character is buried in the mud up to his neck and left to the elements. Sound cheery? You haven't heard the half of it. Nor will you, because if I were to ramble on and on about all the atrocities this play eschews you probably wouldn't believe me when I told you that this particular production turned the play into a black comedy.

Is there something comforting about laughing at death? A guy onstage got garrotted by a stick while holding two pigeons. We doubled over in laughter. In retrospect, I feel so Elizabethan. Nobody loved blood, guts, and bombast like the 16th century folk. Nobody could clap for vengeance, laugh at knavery, and anticipate murder like the Elizabethans, unless it's Christopher Clark's London Shakespeare class.

What's more, we paid to stand through the play. No seats. Standing for 3 1/2 hours. And none of us minded a bit. And it rained the entire time - poured on us and we were sopping and sated. I would do it again in a second. The actors clearly loved us as an audience; we cheered and booed and chanted along with them, and they tailored their performance to us. At the curtain call, they jumped into the crowd, grabbed several of us by the hand, and danced a jig with us in the audience. Eventually they tried to pull us on stage. It was communal theatre. Interactive and alive. Shakespeare the way it should be done.

We walked home afterwards, shivering and spent. We could have been miserable, but we were too excited to bother with that. A night at the theatre is special, but a night like last night is legendary.