Titus 2.0 is one of the most masterfully done adaptations of Shakespeare's play I've seen. Seven actors, each dressed in black and with bare feet, sit in a line of chairs facing the audience. The plot of Titus Andronicus is narrated by the actors, who occasionally take on the roles of the characters—while continuing to speak in the third person much of the time. The style, which is a mixture of mime, dance, music, and drama, is simple but profoundly moving. The production avoids portraying the specific violence of the plot—no other character touches Lavinia during the description of her rape, for example—and, in so doing, it more deeply conveys the abstraction of violence. The lighting, which is masterfully done, adds to the depth of the production.
The scene in which Marcus discovers Lavinia is one of the production’s most effective (see the low-quality video clip below—the only way I could get it on this site—or head to MIT's Global Shakespeares site to see a full production of the play—this scene is about a third of the way in—near 43:30). The actor who has been telling Lavinia’s story stands on her chair at the up right corner of the stage while the actors who have just been lying on their backs representing Titus’ sons in the pit smugly stand at center stage. She delivers this narration:
The narrator then slowly looks at her hands and contorts them, stretching one around her neck and one behind her back. She runs down left, just out of a large half-circle of light that covers most of the stage, where a lighted rectangle stands vertically. The rectangle flickers as vague shadows cross its surface. The actor in the centermost of the seven chairs stands on it and delivers lines equivalent to Marcus’ in the text of the play. When the narrator of Lavinia’s story resumes—and not before—we learn that Lavinia’s hands have been removed and her tongue cut out: “Marcus spotted Lavinia’s amputated arms but from her silence and blood-streaked mouth, he knew her tongue had also been cut.” Tamora’s sons’ line about helping her with the rope now retrospectively makes a terrible kind of sense.Somewhere in the forest, Tamora’s sons were lustfully ravishing Lavinia. They even taunted her: I’d hang myself if I were her. Fine, just help her to tie the cord. Demetrius and Chiron knew she was helpless and left her in the wild.
Though our minds are looking back at that line, the plot moves forward to Marcus’ carrying Lavinia to her father. In this production, the actor who has been uttering Marcus’ lines stays on his chair but extends his arms toward the Lavinia character; with difficulty, she stands and slowly and painfully, as if carrying her own weight as well as Marcus’, crosses back to her chair. When she reaches center stage, she stumbles and falls to her knees. She slowly unwraps her arms from around herself, looks at her hands, stands and turns to face the audience, and slowly lowers her arms to her sides while the other actor, who is about four paces behind her and still standing on his chair, does the same. The distance between the actors and the characters whose stories they narrate is extended into an even greater distance between the characters themselves.
Stripped of the visual elements of violence, Titus Andronicus’ tragedy can be examined more fully both intellectually and emotionally in Titus Andronicus 2.0. The production avoids the possibility of distracting its audience with the physical results of violent acts—blood, severed limbs, corpses—and forces it to consider the emotional, psychological, and spiritual elements of violence to a greater degree.
Links: The Full Video of the Film at MIT's Global Shakespeares.