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Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus by Faction of Fools

I went to see Titus Andronicus last night, in a production by the Faction of Fools theatre company, at the Elstad Annex on the Gallaudet University campus in Washington, D.C.

It's wildly funny! 

If you are anywhere near Washington, you must go see this production. It plays until 22 June.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:

all photos by Teresa Wood

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some of my thoughts with you.

I can't imagine ever seeing a funnier Titus Andronicus. In fact, I would put this as one of the most enjoyably memorable Shakespeare productions I have ever seen. And I definitely laughed harder than I thought I would.

What makes this production so entertaining is the fact that it Faction of Fools, in presenting the play as Commedia dell' Arte,  has discovered the comedy inside the play. The comedy is very broad, very dark and often very violent. 

Yes, the play uses violence to make you laugh. And I promise you will laugh. Yes, you will laugh at the blood, and the gore.

The play has long been misunderstood. I don't think I have ever heard of a Titus Andronicus that is funny until I heard about this Faction of Fools version. If you read about the play, and here is a link to Wikipedia about it, the play is always played as violent and gory, but for dramatic effect -- not comedic effect.

So, this might just be the first correct interpretation of the play. Ever. 

Right now in London, on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is a production of Titus Andronicus. It is brutally violent and bloody, and it has been making people in the audience faint! No kidding. Read for yourself here.

When I heard about this faint-inducing version of the play, I shook my head. How can directors and theatres continue to get this play so wrong? They insist on performing the play as a dreary and bloody horror-show, when it is in fact a very silly comedy -- with lots of blood.

I loved the set for this Faction of Fools production. It's all stark white surfaces. The ticket-taker told me that I might get blood on me if I sat in the first three rows! Hilarious!

Director Matthew R. Wilson adapted the play, and deserves a great deal of credit in decoding this misunderstood play. And the cast is excellent. They all have a great energy and enthusiasm for the material, and they are constantly trying to discover new and fresh moments. I especially liked the gags in between the two halves of the show. It was a funny and unusual way to keep you laughing.

The pace of each half of the show is very good, but it does drag at times. But the payoff for each half is priceless. When the violence gets going and the blood starts spurting, you might fall out of your seat laughing. I almost did.

The climax, during the feast, is endlessly bloody, and insanely funny. The set is drenched in blood, but it is all an excellently choreographed to make you laugh.

The Commedia masks some of the cast wears only adds to the comedy, and I was fortunate to see one of the select performances with ASL interpreters -- who even became part of the bloody proceedings!

If you consider yourself a fan of Shakespeare, you cannot miss this production. 

It is truly history in the making. 



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