|Yuks and yucks with Bard's gory "Titus"
|It's a musical at wacky Buntport
Interpreting Shakespeare's goriest play as a musical comedy is a stretch, even in an era renowned for idiosyncratic Shakespeare stagings in samurai mufti or deep space. Not only do these Colorado College alumni accomplish this admirably, but they manage so successfully that this marks the fourth time that their Buntport Theater company has mounted it.
"People seem to like it," said Erin Rollman, who plays both Titus' brother, Marcus, and his nemesis, the vengeful Goth queen Tamora.
Tickets to the current production began selling months ago, when rumors spread that "Titus Andronicus!" would be remounted for the final time. Earlier productions routinely sold out, disappointing latecomers who thought they could show up without reservations. Several book clubs already bought blocks of tickets as an alternative to hosting a holiday party.
Photo by John Prieto, The Denver Post
"Nothing like baking children into pies for holiday cheer," observed Brian Colonna, referring to a particularly grisly scene that rigorously interprets the adage about revenge being a dish best served cold.
Turning a Shakespeare tragedy - particularly such a confusing and multiply flawed script that scholars debate whether Shakespeare actually wrote "Titus Andronicus" - into a musical comedy was an enormous leap, particularly for a young company.
The actors who formed Buntport all graduated from Colorado College, an elite liberal arts college that breeds unorthodox intellectuals, between 1998 and 2001. The Buntport crew is so devoutly collaborative that Denver Post critic John Moore once posited that the company "writes, directs, designs, acts, builds and probably showers as one."
Their hallmark lies in distilling an often familiar story to its utter essence whilst plundering and frolicking with its beloved details, rather like Monty Python's anarchist grandchildren.
The decision to present "Titus Andronicus" as a musical comedy emerged during a brainstorming session. Someone suggested that it would be funny to have Lavinia - a character whose tongue is cut out early in the play - sing an aria upon being dismembered.
"We were amused and mortified, which pretty much describes the usual audience reaction," Rollman said.
"But it IS funny. It's hard not to laugh."
So they allowed the aria - a Britney Spears parody as vicious as it is visual - to set the show's tone.
Since 2002, when they debuted their version of what they delightedly call "Shakespeare's bloodiest play," Buntport similarly dissected "Hamlet," "Moby-Dick" "Macbeth" (as "Macblank," referring to the theatrical superstition that forbids naming the play offstage), and "The Odyssey: A Walking Tour."
The results are as reachable as they are illuminating, both conceptually and concretely. Those Elizabethan frocks are made from corduroy and denim pants acquired at the ARC thrift store on South Broadway. A car radio/ashtray and a gas can serve as two puppets. A hat on a stick becomes an appreciative listener.
"You end up with integrity when you stage a show you can afford," Rollman said.
"It doesn't take a big budget to put on a good show. We wink at the audience. We all know this forest is just a van. So let's be in cahoots!"
-Claire Martin, December 2, 2007, Denver Post
|Buntport musically spoofs bard's bloodiest tragedy
Buntport Theater delivers another original and creative comic gem in their musical send-up of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Buntport dismembers (pun intended) the Bard's bloodiest and most brutal tragedy, filling the evening with slapstick humor, creative devices to help the audience follow the complex plot, bad puns, cliché musical numbers, and Monty Pythonesque blood and gore.
The production opens with a traveling troupe of actors (the "van-o-players") that will be performing Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Even a brief summary of the plot would take far too long for this review, and have little value. Suffice to say that Titus is a bloody story of war, deceit, revenge, rape, murder, and limb removal, set against the backdrop ancient Rome. This production may be the most understandable rendition of this play you will every see, using a clever visual device to identify characters and filling gaps with occasional narration.
The seven members of Buntport, Brian Colonna, Erik Edborg, Hannah Duggan, Erin Rollman, Evan Weissman, Matt Petraglia, and Samantha Schmitz "adapted, produced, designed, directed, and built" this production as a collaboration. This group has developed an original, integrated piece of comic theatre. While the performances are very good, the careful construction of a complete package, including context, design concept and supporting devices, is excellent. The script itself is funny, but adding in the character identification board, the scenic element of the versatile beat-up old van, the creative puppets, the anachronistic musical numbers, and the eclectic costumes makes the whole exceed the sum of the parts.
As actors, five members of the Buntport ensemble shine as well. All five create multiple unique, recognizable characters, in some cases in rapid succession with only minor costume changes. Hannah Duggan is probably the strongest in the cast, transforming herself from the pathetic Levinia to the delightfully evil Aaron with the application of a fake mustache. As Levinia, after loosing her hands and tongue, she is hilariously ineffective as she tries to communicate what has befallen her and attempts to perform the most basic tasks. Evan Weissman shows amazing versatility, playing many characters, most of them (as aptly described on the character board) "someone who will probably die." His bizarre facial gymnastics as Aemilius are particularly entertaining.
Ron Wilkenson vamps as the Emperor Saturninus, plays Titus's son and grandson (both named Lucius), and controls the puppets representing Tamora's sons Demetrius and Chiron. The choreography of the interaction of the puppets and the live actors on stage is interesting and effective. Brian Colonna opens the evening as the leader of the traveling troupe, and provides an anchor for the show as Titus, as well as covering the emperor's brother Bassianus. Erin Rollman changes gender frequently, bouncing back and forth between the initially tragic and later cruel Tamora, and Marcus, brother of Titus, giving both characters depth and variety.
One thing that makes this show work so well is the integrated overall visual package. The design concept is reminiscent of Italian Commedia Dell'Arte, updated to modern times. The set has two elements, a character board and a modified old van, set against the backdrop of the exposed empty warehouse that is the Buntport Theater. The character board is a clever and effective device, serving two main purposes. It indicates which characters each actor is playing at any given time, and provides a running death toll, for which this play seems to cry out. Initially, the van seems benign - an offstage space for the performers to transform themselves, and a backdrop. But it is rolled (pushed by human power - by actors, no less) to expose four different sides, with each providing creative and bizarre props and set pieces, all of which nonetheless fit in the context of the overall production. And rounding out the visual impact of the play are the costumes. Difficult to describe, they are patchworks, cut and pieced together thrift store outcasts, fitting perfectly the idea of modern Commedia clowns. These are not circus clowns, but unique characters evoking the many dimensions of comedy.
This show is a hoot. It combines irreverence and skill, originality and tight execution, and cheap sight gags and cleverness. After seeing this show, I actually looked up Titus in my anthology of Shakespeare to check, and found that indeed, all the murder, mayhem, and dismemberment are right there in the script. It is no surprise that "straight" productions of Titus are rare - I can't imagine a modern theatre company pulling off a sincere production. This is just one more reason to head to Buntport and see this much more entertaining version.
-Craig Williamson, January 20, 2005, North Denver Tribune
|The Buntport Theatre Presents: Titus Andronicus: The Musical!
Imagine, if you will, theatre that blends the irreverent energy of Monty Python and Kids in the Hall, the decorous poetry of Shakespeare, the absurdist zeal of French playwright Eugene Ionesco and the toe-tapping, finger snapping rhythms of your best off-Broadway show. These disparate dramatic elements come together in "Titus Andronicus: The Musical," a liberal interpretation of Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy currently enjoying a revival at Denver's Buntport Theatre.
The Denver-based theatre company has devoted itself to pushing the boundaries of comedy and dramatic convention since 1998, with plays and skits that are rooted simultaneously in a highbrow literary tradition and an uninhibited silliness. The Buntport's productions have incorporated subjects ranging from the angst-ridden German novelist Franz Kafka to the Greek epic poet Homer.
For those who have had an aversion to Shakespeare's lofty language and long-winded intrigue, the Buntport Theatre's impertinent spin on one of the Bard's most melodramatic plots is both refreshing and redemptive. The witty asides, striking sight gags, and brilliant feats of physical comedy breathe life into what is traditionally viewed as Shakespeare's most unoriginal tragedy. The five players display a consummate energy and enthusiasm as they take on multiple roles and laboriously move their one piece of scenery, a converted Econoline van that serves as the center of action. This creativity and endless innovation render the unlikely parody entirely natural, as if Shakespeare had rewritten the ancient Roman drama specifically as a comedic vehicle.
And, of course, there's the music. The play's constant violence and high death toll make the original score all the more inappropriate and effective in its irreverence. In one of the drama's most traditionally taut and disturbing moments, the title character must have his hand amputated in order to appease the emperor. In the Buntport's send up, the tension is broken as the characters break into a tweaked version of "Somewhere Beyond the Sea."
The troupe works out of a transformed warehouse, and the players expertly manipulate the intimate space to engage the audience. The viewers are exhorted to participate by the sheer immediacy of the action. When the music sounds, it is as if one is at a casual concert at a comfortable club. When the pitch of the players' voices hit their heights, the onlookers are a forcible part of the action by their very proximity. Finally, when the comedy finds its stride, creating a deft balance between the high minded and the profanely wacky, one cannot help but become immersed in the lunacy of it all.
It is in their expert fusion of high drama and sheer silliness, their uncanny ability to reconcile the polar opposites of the stage that the Buntport troupe distinguishes itself as a group of comedians. This subtle and elusive equilibrium is what marks the best comedy and the best comedians. The skill the Buntport players display in walking the line distinguish them not only as local notables, but as comedic performers worthy of national attention.
-Adam H. Goldstein, January 20, 2005, The Metropolitan
|Titus Andronicus! The Musical
If your aim is to poke fun at Will Shakespeare, why not start with Titus Andronicus? This early work masks young Will's yet-to-ripen greenery as a playwright with buckets worth of stage blood, quenching the thirst for carnage that preceded his shift to an emphasis on character. And if a playful swipe at the Bard is on the bill, it helps to have the wit and resourcefulness of Buntport Theater, which in Titus Andronicus! The Musical stabs at the play's thinly stretched canvass and runs the characters through with makeshift swords in the form of everything from trombones to dipsticks.
The award-winning, Denver-based theater company takes on the guise of a traveling band of thespians, prepared to perform any play wherever they pull up; P.S. McGoldstein carts his five member company and their wares in an old van. "We are few in number, but we are resourceful," McGoldstein confides to the audience in a huge understatement as the play begins. The actors take on anywhere from three roles each to upwards of a dozen in the case of Evan Weismann, who plays the company musician as well as a parade of characters identified as "Someone Who Will Probably Die." To help the audience up with the shifts between characters, the players operate a light board with a rendering of each actor and a series of bulbs below each rendering, one for each character they play. Next to this is a chalkboard on which to tally the ever mounting death toll. At times, the lights are flicked on and off as quick as the parries in a sword fight -- most notably in a scene during which two of Erik Edborg's characters, Saturninus and Lucius, engage in mortal combat.
The van is the play's central set piece, epitomizing Buntport's knack for turning seemingly insurmountable production challenges into jaw-dropping creativity. As the play-within-the-play commences, the van doors are opened to reveal a backdrop painted across the insides of the doors and a screen that rolls down, blocking the interior of the van and setting the scene with an image of ancient Rome's famous Eiffel Tower -- which, upon discovery, is quickly covered with another pull down screen depicting the more geographically correct Coliseum. The van is used to great comic effect throughout the show -- e.g., the carriage rocks when Saturninus and Tamara consummate their marriage in the back of the vehicle. As for depiction of the play's horribly tragic events, blood spurts out of the roof when a victim is hacked up inside, and the big picture window on the side of the van offers a view of the carnage that occurs after Aaron traps Titus's sons in the forest.
Then there are the show's musical moments; the company members perform several production numbers with macabre hilarity. I particularly enjoyed Edborg's Frankensteinish dance moves as the rhythmically-challenged Saturninus in the opening number -- a foreshadowing of the grand finale, when all of the corpses sing and twitch, whether marinating in a pool of their own blood or, in the case of Tamora's two puppet sons, baked into pies for mother. There's also a cha-cha version of "I Love You For Sentimental Reasons," with the newly crowned Saturninus and the captured Goth queen Tamora dancing on the roof of the van before slipping inside for their honeymoon. And there's a wonderfully romantic "montage" when Lavinia sneaks off to be with Bassianus (Saturninus' brother). As The Carpenters' "Close to You" plays on the van stereo, the two fall in love. But then the vengeful Tamora arranges for her sons -- the car stereo and the gas can -- to kill Bassianus and to maim Lavinia, cutting off her hands and tongue. This doesn't keep Lavinia from singing an incomprehensible lament as blood drips out of her tongueless mouth. "You see ladies and gentleman, we handle violence with grace and delicacy," McGoldstein remarks to the audience as his cast slips and splashes across the blood-slick stage, heading toward intermission with a lively hand jive (and paying no heed to the fact that Titus and Lavinia have only one hand to jive with between them).
Buntport's decision to season this savage play with comedy and music makes for a riveting two hours' traffic on the stage. For all the jesting and poking, Titus Andronicus! The Musical succeeds in praising Shakespeare, not burying him. The original play isn't beyond redemption. And though the characters are razor-thin compared to the Bard's later, fleshed-out figures, Titus himself is a fascinating study for an actor, moving from relentless barbarism to a strangely sympathetic victimization. Add a cha-cha here, an ash-mouthed puppet there, bloody dipsticks everywhere, and you've got the raw materials for an inventive, accessible evening of entertainment in the hands of a company firing on all cylinders.
-Owen Perkins, January 25,2005, www.theatermania.com
|Bloody Good Fun
|Buntport's Titus Andronicus! The Musical still kills.
Going to the theater alone is depressing, so part of my job as a reviewer involves coaxing, bribing and seducing friends and family members into accompanying me. Over the years, I've come to rely on these companions -- wise and perspicacious people all -- even when their opinions clash with mine. They provide a sorely needed outside perspective, moments of insight, a salutary reminder that not everyone sees the world in the same way that I do.
It takes some thought, figuring out who should be invited to what. So-and-so likes big musicals; someone else is drawn to British comedy; this friend is in love with language; this one admires spectacle. If a friend has seen too many clunkers in a row, I try to sweeten the pot with a production I expect to be excellent (though predicting excellence is harder than you might think). Then again, many of my friends don't mind a bad show, because we have so much fun slicing and dicing it afterward.
It's telling that everyone who's ever accompanied me to Buntport wants to go again. For Titus Andronicus! The Musical -- a restaging of the hilarious production the Buntporters mounted a couple of years ago -- I invited Linda, who had never before visited this cavernous theater warehouse space on the outskirts of town. Within minutes of our being seated, amid the general cachinnation of the audience, I heard her low, musical peals of laughter. "They're really clever," she murmured.
Titus Andronicus is a Shakespeare play so awful that for centuries, many scholars refused to believe that Shakespeare had actually written it. Forced to concede the point, they scrambled for explanations. It was co-written with someone else. It's not really that bad. It's a parody.
The plot alone is a howler. It involves the Roman conqueror, Titus, and his captive, Tamora, Queen of the Goths. There are lots of sons -- Titus's, Tamora's, the sons of Saturninus, himself son of the Emperor. You also get lust, hate, revenge, rape, murder, mutilation and rivers of blood. Each unbelievable plot twist seems to exist solely for the purpose of ushering in more mayhem.
In the Buntport version, five actors play all of the characters, using minimal costumes and scenery. There's a board to one side of the stage adorned with caricatures of the actors' faces. Beneath each face is a list of names, and above each name is a lightbulb. At the beginning of every scene, someone runs to the board and rapidly illuminates the relevant bulbs so you know which character the actor is supposed to be at that moment. Some characters, like Tamora's sons, are represented by objects -- in this case, a gas can and a radio. Evan Weissman plays only one role throughout -- actually, multiple roles wrapped into one. This guy is called Someone Who Will Probably Die. Like Kenny in South Park, Weissman gets knocked off over and over again; unlike Kenny, he does it with a certain sneering élan.
In addition to the helpful character board and a second board on which the corpse score is noted in chalk, there's a van in the middle of the space, painted to represent a house on one side and a forest on the other. This van is rolled from place to place by the actors as needed, while Brian Colonna, who plays Titus with insane energy, urges the audience to help by yelling, "Push, push." Pretty soon it sounds as if you're in an obstetrics ward with a horde of prospective fathers. And, yes, we do ultimately get a newborn on stage -- Tamora's son, who, because of his resemblance to her evil Moor lover, Aaron, she -- Lady Macbeth-like -- wants killed. (Aaron isn't a Moor in the Buntport version; what gives away the child's paternity is the fact that he's inherited his father's black mustache.)
The action is punctuated by song. At one point, Titus is convinced that he can save his two kidnapped sons by cutting off his hand. He, his brother and a third son compete for the honor of mutilation in a warbling trio. There's also cheerful singing as Tamora instructs her sons in how to rape and mutilate Titus's daughter Lavinia, played by Hannah Duggan.
The acting is frantically funny. Erik Edborg prances and weaves about the stage like an animated cartoon figure; Erin Rollman is a smoothly evil Tamora. No one can do silent exasperation better than Hannah Duggan: Her expression when Titus asks her to reveal the name of her assailants after the rape -- she's dripping blood and supposedly missing both hands and tongue -- is priceless.
There's no attempt to make a statement here, just a fast, effervescent evening of fun. "You'll let me know when these guys do another production?" asked Linda as we left.
-Juliet Wittman, January 27, 2005, Westword
|Buntport's version of Shakespeare's forgotten yarn strikes a bloody good note.
Titus Andronicus has always bothered Shakespeare scholars, some of whom simply refused to believe that the great man actually wrote the blood-drenched monstrosity. In his famous Tales From Shakespeare, Charles Lamb noted that Titus was "not acknowledged" by the critics whose assessment of dates he used, "nor indeed by any author of credit." Later thinkers reluctantly acknowledged Shakespeare's authorship but have suggested that Titus was a rewrite of an older and much worse play. Others, defending the tragedy, pointed out that there are lots of corpses in Hamlet and King Lear, as well as spurious gore, and that Greek tragedy is full of rape, murder and cannibalism. Harold Bloom, on the other hand, believes that the play is an intentional parody, a Shakespearean sendup of rival playwright Christopher Marlowe. In any case, almost nobody stages Titus these days. Audiences are too apt to titter at the forgettable merry-go-round of posturing, declaiming characters, betrayals and counter-betrayals, and the cascade of murders and mutilations.
But the folks at Buntport Theater have figured it out. They're presenting Titus Andronicus as Titus Andronicus! The Musical. Why has no one ever thought of this before? It means that when Titus is told he can save the lives of two of his sons by chopping off his hand (don't ask -- it wouldn't make sense even if I gave you more context), we get a stirring masculine trio as he, his brother and another (currently unendangered) son compete for the honor of self-mutilation, complete with stirring choruses and natty little rhythmic steps. "Nay, come, agree whose hand shall go along," says evil Aaron, who has set this all up, "for fear they die before their pardon come." And when Titus, having killed the wicked Tamora's wicked sons, makes plans to bake their heads and serve them in pastry to their mother, he flourishes a knife in his remaining hand and musically debates the recipe in a zesty French accent.
This is Titus Andronicus as staged by Professor P.S. Goldstien -- aka Brian Colonna -- and four actors, out of the back of a van that occupies Buntport Theater's cavernous and otherwise empty playing area. Each actor plays more than one of Titus's several dozen roles, and there's a helpful placard with pictures, names and lightbulbs that get turned on and off during the action so you can figure out who's playing whom at any given moment. There's also a chalkboard to track the corpses. This doesn't mean you can actually follow the twists and turns of the plot -- it's hard to do that in any production -- but it does give you a broad idea of what's happening, which is all you really need.
The van is tricked out with immense ingenuity. One side is painted like a forest, the other like a building. Canvases slide up and down inside the door, platforms are pulled from the side and back. Periodically, the entire cast gets together to push the vehicle from one place to another. They do this with energy, élan and high good humor, so that a fall or mishap becomes part of the performance.
It isn't just that Buntport's is an interpretation of an inexplicable piece of our literary inheritance (and for all its lunacy, it is an interpretation). It's that the approach to the work -- the collaboration and improvisation with which it began -- is valid theater in itself. You see the way the group has chosen to present a particular speech, but you also see how the actor speaking it stumbled (or strolled) into his interpretation and what he now feels about it. There's Shakespeare's text, and there's also Buntport's commentary -- overt or implied -- on that text.
Objects take on a life of their own. In the night scenes, a stuffed owl perches on the van's rearview mirror. When someone comments that "the leaves are green," several skeletal umbrellas, their spokes covered with leaves, unfurl. Blood spurts, dribbles and pools. Tamora's sons, Demetrius and Chiron, are represented by a gasoline can and a car radio; their speech comes courtesy of Erik Edborg, who acts as their puppeteer. Later, the human-flesh pies speak, too.
Buntport Theater is the creation of several graduates of Colorado College -- Brian Colonna, Erik Edborg, Hannah Duggan, Erin Rollman, Matt Petraglia and Samantha Schmitz -- who create their theater pieces collaboratively. Colonna, Edborg, Duggan and Rollman are the performers in Titus, along with Muni Kulasinghe. You want to see them at work, because this production is clever, inventive, and one of the funniest evenings of theater around. It's also definitive. Which means you'll never have to go see Titus Andronicus again.
-Juliet Wittman, February 13, 2003, Westword
|Buntport injects Bard's 'Titus' with heads-up (and off) absurdity
Shakespeare certainly wasn't known for his absurdist wit. He was a funny guy, no doubt, but he left absurdity to be conquered by Ionesco.
But through the creative pathways of others, most of Shakespeare's plays have been transformed into different beasts from what Shakespeare originally imagined. While many directors and writers think themselves brilliant for taking a play and changing the era and aesthetics (think Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet"), more impressive is the Buntport Theater's "Titus Andronicus! The Musical," which bends the Bard's bloodiest play into an irreverent, sometimes-musical journey into the absurd.
"Titus!" is a remount of last year's production. It takes the familiar story of "Titus" and gives it a smart, "South Park" twist. "Titus!" ingeniously weaves together Shakespeare's story of tough love and vengeance and the theater company's penchant for the high- and low-brow laugh line. Amazingly, "Titus" was adapted locally by Buntport, and the inventive adaptation proves that the theater company's age is illusory - they have talent far beyond their years.
Since "Titus" is no "Hamlet," a recap of the story is a must. Buntport smartly handles this in a (somewhat) succinct wrapup on the back of its program. Titus, the great Roman general, returns from war where he lost 22 of his sons. Titus' daughter, Lavinia, is promised to the new Roman emperor, Saturninus, but is in love with his brother, Bassianus. Saturninus rejects her and then takes on a seductive, Andronicus-hating prisoner, Tamora, as his bride.
Tamora's two sons and her secret boyfriend, Aaron, set out for revenge against Titus and start by killing Bassianus, framing Titus' sons for the deed, and then cutting off Lavinia's hands and tongue. Saturninus tells Titus he can have his sons back in exchange for one of the Andronicus' hands. Titus cuts off his hand, and, in return, receives only the decapitated heads of his sons - an exchange that brings on his insanity.
One of Titus' few living sons, Lucius, is sent off to gather an army to help the Andronicuses claim Rome's throne, but before he returns, Tamora comes to Titus with her two sons - disguised - to dig him in an even deeper hole. But Titus sees the lie, kills Tamora's sons, and bakes their heads into pies, which she later eats.
The Buntport production is put forward as just another day on the road for Professor P.S. McGoldstien and his van of traveling players. The troupe performs out of a van, painted differently on each side to make for varying backdrops.
Each actor plays multiple characters, designated by which light bulb is illuminated on the character board. For example, actor Brian Colonna, in a most excellent Oedipal twist, plays both Titus and Lavinia's lover, Bassianus, depending on which name is lit up.
The music, which takes familiar tunes such as "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" or "Oops! ... I Did It Again" and adds knowingly bad lyrics, gives the production an elevated sense of theatricality. Not only is this part-farce, but it's a musical, with familiar songs and choreography to boot. And the cast pulls off each song with the needed overdramatic flair. When Hannah Duggan's Lavinia emerges from her appendage "trimming," she mumbles her way through Britney's "Oops!" with bloody shirt cuffs and blood spilling out from of her mouth. Later, Colonna's Titus sings, "I'll cut off more extremities if that will bring (my sons) back any sooner," using a sword for a cane, to the tune of "Beyond the Sea."
"See, ladies and gentleman, we handle violence with delicacy," says Colonna's McGoldstien with great comedic timing.
The rest of the cast is equally strong. Duggan, who excels as Lavinia, is wonderful, especially in her tongue-less scenes that rely on her non-verbal skills. Erik Edborg, who takes on Saturninus and Lucius, is best as the puppets that are Tamora's two sons - and also two of the play's absolute treasures.
Chiron and Demetrius are Tamora's sons who trim Lavinia and eventually are cooked into pies by Titus, and they were made into puppets - one a gas can, the other an old-model car radio/ashtray by the Buntport crew. The transformation adds cult-brand humor to the mix. And right when it seems like the laughter is endless, one of the final scenes, where Aaron confesses to his evildoing, lacks flow and sinks the tail end of the production to the dregs of bad writing.
"Titus!" is very un-Shakespearean, but still this irreverent romp is something the Bard would very well adore and, possibly, envy.
-Ricardo Baca, February 19, 2003, Denver Post
|Buntport makes laughingstock of Bard with tuneful
"Titus Andronicus! The Musical"
Take some Shakespeare. Turn it upside down, inside out, slap it around, shake it like an unopened can of paint, hang it on the wall and make fun of its mamma.
That's the approach Buntport Theater takes to what it calls "the Bard's bloodiest play," "Titus Andronicus." What results is a crass, sardonic, no-holds-barred gorefest (stuffed with toe-tapping musical numbers) that is one of the funniest experiences you are likely to have on what the evening's host refers to as "a flight on that big bird called theatre - with an R, E, of course."
The show takes place in Buntport's bare-walled performance space, occupied only by a massive Club Wagon XLT van which serves as the surprisingly versatile set, a player piano and tape deck, and a light-bulb-studded tote board, the last of which helps us keep track of who's playing whom in each scene.
A drop-dead-funny cast of five, who present themselves as the traveling "Professor P.S. McGoldstien Van-O-Players," portray the near-infinitude of characters in "Titus." They aid their cause with the help of a stripped-down text crammed with cheesy gags, clever no-budget costumes and props, and a flock of quick-change costume pieces that help to keep the players straight - barely.
A summary of the play's gruesome and complex plot, thought to be Shakespeare's first effort at tragedy, would eat up too much space. Besides, Buntport's hilarious program captures its absurdities nicely. Its mélange of high-flown eloquence, revenge, murder, rape, insanity, dismemberment, and cannibalism has rendered it unproduceable by all but the hardiest and most grimly insightful of directors. Of course, this makes it perfect fodder for parody.
Each performer takes on a handful of roles with relish - and a great deal of ketchup, which is splattered about profusely as the bloodshed swells (updated as expirations progress on a handy "Death Toll" chalkboard). Brian Colonna, a bundle of energy despite undergoing an emergency appendectomy only days before the opening, sets the tone with joyful, manic bombast as Titus, and with wimpy delicacy as the hapless suitor Bassanius. Erik Edborg scores as a wheezy emperor, Titus' wistfully dense would-be-hero son Lucius, and as the voices and hands powering the evil brothers Chiron and Demetrius, who are puppets incarnated from a car radio and a gas can, respectively.
Droll Erin Rollman handles her manifold acting duties with style and wit, especially as Titus's befuddled brother Marcus, and as Titus's nemesis, the Goth queen Tamora. Hannah Duggan is brilliantly funny, doubling as the evil Aaron the Moor, complete with Snidely Whiplash moustache, and as Titus's doomed daughter Lavinia, who, lopped of tongue and hands, she still gamely serves as a mute and melancholy Ann Miller. Tasteless? Sure. Funny? You bet.
A new and welcome Buntport participant is gangly Muni Kulasinghe, who runs the musical portion of the show and fills in as any number of incidental characters whose demise is imminent. His profusion of idiotic impersonations adds immeasurably to the show's bounty of belly laughs. Classical music lovers will find his baleful plucking of the "Dies Irae" on mandolin a howl. Kudos also to the troupe's often-overlooked backstage members, Matt Petraglia and SamAnTha Schmitz, who keep the comic havoc flowing.
"Titus" gleefully mocks the Bard and all who have made him into the playhouse's sacred beast. In an area where "serious," big-budget productions draw crowds and media attention, Buntport proves that entertaining theater (or theatre) can be composed of nothing more than a minimum of stage effects, a powerful collection of talent, and an abundance of imagination. "Titus - The Musical" deserves packed houses for the remainder of its run.
-Brad Weismann, May 14, 2002, Colorado Daily
|A bloody tragedy turns into a hoot: Buntport's 'Titus' a biting parody
|(*Revised from published version with permission*)
"Titus Andronicus" has long been regarded as Shakespeare's bloodiest tragedy. Who knew it could also be his funniest comedy?
Buntport Theatre spoofs the Bard with the intelligent and endlessly inventive send-up "Titus Andronicus! The Musical." The body count (kept on a chalkboard scorecard) tops out at 35 (seven times the number of people in the cast), but the only tragedy here is that the smartypants at the Buntport were forced to shorten their run to just two weekends. Brian Colonna, who plays Titus, underwent an emergency appendectomy just before the April 25 opening, delaying things by two weeks. But he's back in full flourish, and he's got scads of killings to make up for in a very short period of time.
The revenge tragedy "Titus" is Shakespeare's most lampoonable work, but the key to spoofing it successfully is to stay firmly rooted in the text. Several other companies around town are currently taking liberties with Shakespearean models, but none comes close to the level of smart humor and biting parody that Buntport achieves. The Bug, for example, is presenting "Comedy of Errors," but in acknowledgement of its difficult material, it ill-advisedly goes for broad, desperate stabs at humor that are accomplished only when its actors leap desperately out of character, or bulldoze the fourth wall. It comes across like children's theater.
The mad geniuses at the Buntport, who adapted and directed the material as a collective, take a more sophisticated yet still-bawdy approach to "Titus," with brilliant sight gags, silly songs and masterful prop work that has fun with the material while staying true to its lusty spirit. While the Bug's cast doesn't even seem to much like the material it is working with, the young Buntport players love theirs so fully they could eat it for lunch like a Chiron pie.
After I saw Buntport's romp and stomp, I checked out Julie Taymor's beautifully violent film starring Anthony Hopkins. The approaches could not be more different, but they have two things in common: They are both at times side-splittingly funny, and they both illuminate the text for the audience, the benchmark against which any Shakespearean production is judged.
Titus is a Roman general who has lost 22 sons in battle and upon his return offers the son of the imprisoned Goth queen Tamora as a ritual sacrifice. Titus defers the throne to Saturninus, who promptly weds the revenge-minded Tamora. Her sons rape Titus' daughter Lavinia, and chop off her hands and tongue. They also murder Saturninus' brother and frame two of Titus' surviving sons. When offered his sons' lives in exchange for a hand, Titus gladly lops his off, but in return is delivered only his sons' heads. Thought delirious with madness, Titus fashions a tasty revenge: He kills Tamora's sons Chiron and Demetrius and bakes them into meat pies that Tamora unknowingly eats with ketchup and mustard before meeting her own doom.
The collective has proudly chopped about 50 percent of the text, but still, how to keep the epic straight with a cast of five? The cast has fashioned an inspired cheat sheet. A large board shows the painted faces of all five actors in a row. Below each face are the names of the characters that actor portrays. Each name is accompanied by a pull-string lightbulb that Muni Kulasinghe flicks on and off at breakneck speed. So if you ever get confused, you can instantly see which character each actor is portraying. It's a hoot to watch.
Buntport presents "Titus" in its otherwise empty warehouse space with only a Club Wagon van for a set. And when that van is a rockin', someone comes a choppin'.
Colonna is P.S. McGoldstien, leader of the denim-based Van O' Players minstrels. The van is painted on three sides to represent different settings, and the hole in the roof serves nicely as the pit where Lavinia's lover meets his doom, complete with blood-smeared windows.
Another hollowed window serves as the opening for some puppet theater scenes that Taymor would love. Erik Edborg is a great puppeteer who plays the brothers Chiron and Demetrius as a ripped-out car radio and a gas can. When they get baked into singing meat pies, the gas spout (snout?) sticks out of the crust. Trust me: It's funnier than it may sound.
The sight gags are nonstop: In the original, Tamora's infidelity with Aaron is revealed when she delivers a black baby. Here her baby sports a tiny Chef Boy-ar-dee mustache that matches Aaron's (Hannah Duggan). When Titus sacrifices his hand, it is smashed off in the van door. When a sword is drawn, it's an oil dipstick.
And about that music. It's ridiculous and bossa-nova saucy, like the play itself. It parodies the Carpenters ("Close to You"), the jazz standard "Beyond the Sea," even Bon Jovi's awful "Living on a Prayer."
Just go see it. But if you don't like it, and your heart grows full with the thirst for revenge, please forget that you heard about it from me.
-John Moore, May 15, 2002, Denver Post
|The Bard lightens up in Buntport's 'Titus'
The Bard is never boring in the hands of the capable Buntport Theater clan.
In its version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, the six-member troupe twists a tragic tale of revenge and deceit into a manic, melodramatic musical, filled with oodles of fake blood, clever pop-song covers and abundant sarcasm.
It's far from the traditional Titus but tons more fun.
Buntport presents the play as a band of roving performers (known as the Van-O-Players), harking back to the vagabond troupes who traveled the countryside in Shakespeare's day. The Van-O-Players carry props, costumes, a musician and a player piano in their dilapidated but colorful vehicle -- the essentials for making light of one of the Bard's least-liked works.
Because they're few in number, each player takes on multiple roles, transitioning from character to character by donning a fake beard, cowboy hat or other silly prop. The group's musician (the multitalented Muni Kulasinghe) plays such a vast array of characters that he pastes strips of paper to his chest to indicate which personality he's portraying at any given time. He also tracks the play's mounting death toll on a small black chalkboard.
The Van-O-Players present an abbreviated adaptation of Titus but stick somewhat closely to the play's plotline, which details the downfall of a Roman general in a Melrose Place-type fashion.
The Buntport tribe (made up of Brian Colonna, Erik Edborg, Hannah Duggan, Erin Rollman and their offstage counterparts Matt Petraglia and Samantha Schmitz) have a grand time poking fun at this poorly constructed play.
The groups shrewdly sprinkle songs throughout the scenes to highlight the absurdity of specific characters and situations. The new emperor, for example, celebrates his ascension with ragtime playing in the background, his loyal subjects dancing around him sporting toothy smiles and jazz hands.
A plotting lover sings about seeking revenge for his sweetheart over a cover of ABBA's Fernando, chatting up murderers while doing the cha-cha.
Even versions of Bobby Darrin's Beyond the Sea and Britney Spears' Oops I Did it Again make appearances.
The props also provide comic relief. Two characters are portrayed by hand puppets; one is made of a rusty gas can, and the other is an old car radio with a shoeshine brush serving as a spiky hair covered head.
Blood is bountiful, pouring like a river out of the performer's guts, mouths, hands, etc. By the end of the play, the actors could easily double as extras for the next Scream sequel.
And the show has a surprisingly high production value, considering that the troupe's psychedelic van is the set. With scenes painted on its sides, the vehicle serves as a grand palace one minute, a lush, green forest the next.
But gimmicks aside, what makes this spoof succeed is the cast's commitment. The performers are consistently solid, from Rollman as the devilishly delightful Queen Tamora (who punctuates nearly every scene with a wicked laugh) to Kulasinghe, who sprints between characters with Michael Lewis like speed.
But hurry if you want to see the Bard's bloodiest play performed Buntport Theater style. The show, postponed by two weeks because of Colonna's emergency appendectomy, will end its run Sunday.
-Erika Gonzalez, May 17, 2002, Rocky Mountain News