Presenting this sizeable work in such a small space is a challenge that director Stacy A. Donovan has surmounted with artistic supremacy. It’s a small-scale spectacle.
Scenic designer Scott Pomerantz’s billowing, large translucent shower curtains encircle the center of the stage and are opened and closed for strategic effects. The black stage is bare except for a leveled platform on wheels. Mr. Pomerantz has provided an artfully stark canvas for the actions.
Jennifer Hill’s lighting design is a moody combination of searing brightness, ominous darkness and malevolent red hues.
Earth tone and black tunics, robes, and harnesses evoke a stylized take on the ancient Roman time period that costume designer Elizabeth Van Buren aesthetically employs to represent the characters.
Ms. Donovan’s enthralling opening sequence sets the tone for the production. Behind the curtains are actors in silhouette with their shadows on view. Other cast members appear to the side of the auditorium and proceed on to the stage. There are numerous gorgeous stage pictures and compelling movement and dance numbers. The play’s infamous violent set pieces are boldly realized.
This outlandish revenge tragedy has long been disdained by scholars and is rarely performed. Director Peter Brook’s 1955 English production starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh is probably the most prominent in modern times. In 1994, Julie Taymor staged a notable production, and she directed a film version starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange in 1999.
Titus is a middle-aged Roman general who clashes with the formidable Tamora, Queen of The Goths. She has a villainous Moorish lover Aaron, and some vicious sons. Titus has several sons, as well as a virtuous daughter Lavinia. There’s also an assortment of relatives, and The Emperor. Ghoulishness pervades.
The most ghastly event among the gruesome occurrences is the rape of Lavinia by Tamora’s sons. After defiling her, in order to prevent her from naming them, they cut out her tongue and chop her hands off.
Donovan has the assault take place behind the fluttering curtains as Janis Joplin’s singing “Cry Baby” (part of the eclectic soundtrack that includes classical and pop tunes) as the actors suggestively move around. Black gloves and black lipstick later represent the maiming.
Other bloody deeds are symbolically depicted by throwing green sand around. What happens, such as Titus hacking off his hand at one point is vividly made clear by this inspired device. Severed heads are tossed around in cloth bags. The coup de theatre of the dining scene has the actors adorned with smeared red lipstick.
Most crucially, Donovan has assembled a splendid youthful cast who uniformly exhibit absolute commitment and who recite the verse with flair.
Having a female portray Titus adds even more dimension, and Tali Custer is magnetically fierce and imperious in the title role. Encased in a tight black ensemble, the voluptuous Julia Hansen is a commanding Tamora. Soft-spoken but forceful, the sensual Marquis Wood is a charismatic Aaron. John Noel is a delightfully impish Saturninus who becomes The Emperor. Emily Pintel is harrowing as Lavinia. The animated and expressive Erika Lee Sengstack is terrific as the Clown, who weaves in and out of the grisly episodes.
Ilana Berman, Ryan Castro, Kenny Fedorko, Chris Gallerani, Ellen Jenders and Sarah Misch comprise the rest of the talented company.
That Which Remains is presented by Improbable Stage. This company “is dedicated to creating intriguing theatrical work, both original pieces and reimagined classics, and to supporting theatre artists as they make their way in New York.” Here they have beautifully achieved these goals.
That Which Remains (through June 24, 2017)
IRT Theater’s 3B Artist Series
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, #3B, in Manhattan
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission