I had been dutifully watching the trailer for Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre's new production of Titus Andronicus, listening to Aaron Cromie, who directs it, burble on, talking-head style, about going to graduate school, blah blah blah. And then his head started to bleed. And the blood gushed down his face, and still he talked. This, I said to myself, is going to be a Titus Andronicus to remember. And so it is.
Rarely performed because of its impossibly gruesome events, Titus Andronicus includes three behandings, one betonguing, many beheadings, and an assortment of rape, gouging, stabbing, slicing, bloodletting, and cannibalism. It is so wildly, ridiculously excessive that the danger of parody lurks in every scene. Add to this a convoluted plot and a huge cast of characters and you have Shakespeare's first tragedy, a nearly unplayable play on the contemporary stage.