As temperatures begin to drop in Dallas, it’s perfect weather for sitting outside on a nice lawn with a bottle of wine while watching a stage fill up with blood.
For the first time in its 46-year history, Shakespeare Dallas will present one of Shakespeare’s most violent plays, Titus Andronicus. Leave the kids at home or risk, perhaps, years of psychological damage. (That's assuming, of course, any kid raised in the age of video games could be damaged by, let alone pay attention to, a play by Shakespeare.)
Shakespeare Dallas artistic director Raphael Parry will take the stage as the titular role. The play was chosen by the late Rene Moreno, who had been artistic associate for the theater from 2006 until his death this year. Moreno was adamant that the play be produced. Christie Vela will direct. Both Vela and Parry believe this is an appropriate way to honor Moreno’s legacy.
“Rene said, ‘Go for it! You can’t do Titus without the violence!’” says Parry, who promises to honor this request with “buckets of blood.”
Upon choosing the play, Parry had to consider that Titus has historically had a reputation as one of Shakespeare’s “lesser” works. Parry says that reputation is falling out of vogue, and recent scholarship is dispelling that theory.
“It’s one of his earliest plays,” says Parry. “The language is a little rough but still highly poetic. There is very little prose; he is toying with meter here in ways that were different from his contemporaries.”
Vela, a horror film buff, says the play was like a horror film of its day.
“I’ve always loved Titus,” she says. “At the time, it was the most-produced play.”
Although Vela is giddily making the show as bloody as she can, she isn’t discounting the fact that there are much deeper themes, such as family loyalty and questioning how far a parent is willing to go for a child. Beyond that, she says, it asks important questions about how far citizens will go to stay loyal to the state.
“We see Shakespeare starting to ... take a stab, no pun intended ... at his great villains. There is a lot of Lear in this play, and Aaron is a prototype for some of his later villains, like Iago,” Vela says.
Vela and Parry both see connections between King Lear and Titus, particularly the familial ties that are severed so harshly. Titus returns home from an ongoing campaign against the Goths and brings with him Tamora, queen of the Goths, and her sons as prisoners. After Titus kills Tamora’s eldest son, she vows revenge on his family.
The revenge results in the destruction of both families and a stack of bodies. Titus eventually goes mad. Those familiar with the fruits of his insanity will appreciate that Shakespeare Dallas will host a pie-eating contest opening night.
“There are obvious echoes of Lear here,” says Parry. “Titus and Lavinia are very much like Lear and Cordelia. Here you have a dishonored king with a fully intact ego and a father who breaks away from his family.”
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Vela is staying loyal to Moreno’s vision, by keeping the play set in Rome but with a modern flavor. She saw connections to late 1990s horror films like Saw, which is not easy to affect, she says.
Those moments are operatic, Vela and Parry agree.
“We are having great fun,” says Parry. “You have to make the blood show up!”
Titus Andronicus performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Shows are at Samuell Grand Amphitheater through Sept. 30 and at Addison Circle Park from Oct. 5-15.