Haven hands us an extra-tense Titus Andronicus | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Haven hands us an extra-tense Titus Andronicus

Complicating gender and racial identity adds texture to the gory Shakespearean stew.

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Titus Andronicus is a bloody tale about the illusion of peacetime. Despite being a child of the Clinton administration, I didn't realize it until I sat through Haven's latest production at the Den, directed by Ian Damont Martin. But that's exactly what keeps the show relevant. Haven handily rises to that occasion, loading the show with contemporary commentary about race, gender, legacy, and violence that expands the Bard's work in rebellious form. Here, I saw the tragedy of liberal politics, the failures of political reconciliation without institutional change.

In this rendition, an artful and highly choreographed battle between the Romans and Goths kicks off the story, which leads victorious Titus (Colin Jones) back to Rome and the emergence of Saturninus's (Christopher Wayland Jones) rules. The rest of the juicy plot follows an ever-growing cycle of vengeance verging on Grand Guignol.

From Sarah Espinoza's gorgeous and brassy sound design to Gabrielle Lott-Rogers's brutal, brilliant performance as Marcus, this adaptation blows it out of the water. This is truly an intricate and tight take. From the top, costume designer Lilly Walls's use of color in the show is apparent: the Romans are Black actors donning elaborate black costumes; the surviving Goths—all white actors—are in blood-soaked white tatters. It's a smart reversal of the harmful tradition that treats whiteness as "pure" and Blackness as "dirty." The gendering of the roles is also defiant and chaotic, complicating Shakespearian masculinity in profound ways. The revenge might be served in piping-hot pie crusts, but this production's ability to draw out classic bleak humor while offering fresh themes really brings the heat.  v

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