by Shirley Lorraine
Elite Stages Non-traditional Holiday Offering
To usher out 2021, the Elite Theater in Oxnard brings an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to the stage. Not your average light-weight holiday fare full of cheery songs and well wishes. Instead, it is a feast of blood and bitter tongue.
This version, adapted and directed by Bill Walthall, offers a panoply of variations on the Bard’s theme of rivalry, revenge, and retribution. The cast is all-female, save for one. The title character is renamed Tita, played by Sindy McKay-Swerdlove. She embodies her role completely, complete with haircut and tattoos. Well done. She is flanked by an army of Goths, followers and soldiers waiting to do as she bids.
Most of the character names from the original were not changed, simply made to fit within this premise. Warrior women works well, and one quickly dismisses any necessary gender mentions. The character of Aaron the Moor is managed capably by Stan McConnell, the sole male in the cast, who maintains a critical role in the story.
The production utilizes multiple levels of the theater to good advantage, adding depth to the action. Props are used sparingly, allowing the actors freedom to bring the Bard’s words into focus. Costuming has a Mad Max feel to it, giving the staging an almost futuristic and timeless ambiance which has been proven to work well for Shakespeare’s writings.
The acting acumen of the cast is uneven, keeping in mind that this is community theater, and everyone must start somewhere. Shakespeare is not the easiest of trials for any actor, seasoned or not, and I was impressed with the line delivery throughout regardless of recitation style. Every line deserves to be heard.
The main characters are all experienced and solid. Backing up Tita is Theresa Secor as Marcus Andronicus, Tita’s sister. She and Swerdlove deliver exceptionally passionate performances. Also of note are Alyssa Carmen as Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and Ashely Maimes as Lavinia, Tita’s daughter.
To minimize the bloodshed (this is touted as the Bard’s bloodiest play), a murder coach (Prof. John Comstock) is credited in the program. Director Walthall cleverly staged bodies to disappear into a great pit or otherwise go out of sight. The many killings are then implied by movement adjustments and costuming enhancement.
The first act was strong and powerfully played as the story unfolded and the audience adjusted to the “look” of the action. However, the second act seemed to me to downgrade into periods of melodrama in delivery and characterization, eliciting laughs as one after another individual was dispensed with and dragged offstage, to return as another minor character.
Andronicus is an unusual choice for season’s end, but it does serve as a reminder that despite a challenging year we have managed to survive and move forward. The Elite is struggling to continue as well. Your support is appreciated.
Andronicus continues through December 19 on the South Stage at the Elite Theater. www.theElite.org or 805-483-5118.