June 14 — July 21, 2002
United States Premiere
by Albert Ostermaier
Translated by Anthony Vivis
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe Cast: Maia Brewton, Katharina Lejona, Stephen Pocock, Bo Roberts, Paul M. Rubenstein
June 19, 2002
by Wenzel Jones
I love the whole notion of Frederique Michel directing these shows that manage to be both challenging and baffling. I won’t even pretend I can make head or tails of this production, but this is not a theatre that is making its reputation on accessibility. The physical structure, with its between-numbers address and its alley entrance, serves as an apt venue for the equally abstruse play within. The artistry involved cannot be denied. Not getting the piece makes us want to rise to the occasion next time–as opposed to running screaming into the night, the response to recondite theatre with nothing behind it.
This particular outing is a deconstruction of that bit of second- tier Shakespeare, the mayhem and revenge-fest Titus Andronicus. Playwright Albert Ostermaier–rather a Big Thing in Germany; if you don’t read Titus at least read the program notes–has reconfigured the piece so that Titus (played variously by Stephan Pocock, Bo Roberts, and a mannequin torso) is a writer whose art has been put at the service of a morally dubious state. Daughter Lavinia (played by Maia Brewton and a mannequin torso, but not the same one) functions more as a muse this time around, making her eventual appearance in hacked-up form all the more poignant. Leni Riefenstahl (Katharina Lejona) and Elia Kazan and Ezra Pound (Paul M. Rubenstein) also appear, musing on using their art in the service of something bigger. Only the Riefenstahl moment made the fog in my head clear; trenchant points were being made about the culture of the image and entertainment as control, but too soon the character was gone. The image thing carries through in Charles Duncombe Jr.’s set, a shrine to physical culturism. The work has been translated by Anthony Vivis, but I kept thinking that a production in German might be more effective, as the audience could then concentrate on the meta-theatrical and not get bogged down in the words.
Lejona and Rubenstein spend most of the evening functioning as the Angel of Death and the Dark Angel, respectively, and in these capacities they set the tone of the piece. They’re spooky and lascivious and just about everything but safe. Michele Gingembre has put the Tituses (Titi? Titae?) in boxy red suits, indeed sticking to an effective red-and-black palette throughout–even Lavinia’s white dress is spattered with blood. Michel doesn’t so much block her actors as choreograph them; at the same time they’re not so much speaking as singing without benefit of melody–if that makes any sense. Sometimes the challenge for the audience is in keeping a straight face, but it’s definitely theatre by and for the artistically ambitious.
Los Angeles Times
by F. Kathleen Foley
There are two ways to view “Titus Tartar” at City Garage. You can keep your brain on high alert, striving to catch every nuance of Albert Ostermaier’s fascinating take on Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Or you can fall asleep. Passive observation is not an option.
Ostermaier’s text, translated by Anthony Vivis with additional text by Charles A. Duncombe Jr., is not so much a deconstruction as it is a demolition job. The complicated plot and characters of Shakespeare’s original are reduced to mere backdrop for Ostermaier’s flowing, fanciful verbiage.
Stark white mannequins are part of the backdrop in Duncombe’s eerie production design. In the play’s opening monologue, a man (Paul M. Rubenstein) laments: “Do you know what it’s like to have your art taken away from you?” The artist’s powerlessness in society, the yawning divide between pure creative expression and commercial success, the particular danger of politicized art are prevalent themes– powerful points, although belabored. A prominent poet and playwright in his native Germany, Ostermaier reiterates his plaint about the artist’s sad lot to a narcissistic degree.
To illustrate the perils of ideological compromise, Ostermaier trots out Leni Riefenstahl (Katharina Lejona) and Ezra Pound (Rubenstein) as cautionary examples of artists whose work was subsumed in the pathological mass culture of fascism.
The Hollywood Ten are invoked early on. “Yes, I named names,” a character defiantly admits. Faced with artistic suppression, he chooses betrayal.
The connection of all this with “Titus Andronicus” is intriguingly speculative. Perhaps Lavinia (Maia Brewton), Titus’ tongue-less daughter, is meant as an exponent of the voiceless artist. And maybe this doppelganger Titus, played here by Stephan Pocock and Bo Roberts, is intended to emphasize the duality of the artist–again, that painful gap between culture and creativity.
At least, those are possible interpretations. As for you, let your gray matter be your guide. The most certain elements in this tantalizing stew are the combined artistic efforts of director Frederique Michel and Duncombe–a proven team who continue to challenge area audiences with the purposely arcane.