What would happen if Shakespeare and Sid Vicious had a baby? Although this question triggers some rather disturbing images, their unholy offspring might look something like Titus X, a lovingly loud interpretation of Titus Andronicus told through the tunes of punk music. While the production dismisses nearly all of the Bard's text, it successfully revels in the bloodlust and revenge that drive the original play. The cast takes the stage to the overwhelming strains of an electric guitar, a bass guitar, and a drummer, who pummel their instruments with grace and vigor throughout the show. Although the band is top-notch, they are also REALLY LOUD. Fortunately, free ear plugs are distributed before the show, and I must recommend that any future audience member who wants to retain most of their hearing take a pair, just in case.
The show begins with a rousing, guitar-fueled chant of "Titus, Titus!" and some expositional dialogue that is difficult to hear. Luckily, the situation becomes clear upon Titus' (Peter Schuyler) entrance. He is a war hero returning from battle victorious, with Tamora (Bat Parnas), the queen of the Goths, as his slave. The emperor Saturninus (Joe Pindelski) takes Tamora as his bride and thus, enables her to wreak revenge upon Titus for the murder of her own children. Her two surviving sons kill the emperors' brother and frame it on Titus' offspring. They also rape his daughter Lavinia (Amanda Bond) and cut off her hands and tongue to silence her. Titus feigns madness for awhile but eventually kills the criminals, baking them into a pie and forcing Tamora to eat her own sons. A rash of killings ensue, leaving nearly everyone dead in a gory bloodfest.
The complicated plot translates poorly to punk music, which is by nature loud and indecipherable. But Titus X is more musical theater than punk opera, and the play increasingly resorts to spoken scenes and sung dialogue. While I felt a little disappointed at this tempering of the genre, I have to admit that if every song had been pure punk the story would have been lost. Several rock ballads add to the musical theater feel, and for the most part they slow down the anarchic energy of the show. The major exception to the ballads-are-boring rule is Lavinia's post-tongue solo, sung through a mouthful of blood. To make a tongueless, handless rape victim sing a ballad is sick, wrong, and absolutely hilarious. The other songs that work well are the punked-up screamfests that simplify the plot into a single, selfish emotion. "She Woman" is a great example of that, with lyrics such as "mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine!" effectively getting the point across. When freed from having to clearly enunciate or hit notes, the performers really get to revel in the shameless self-indulgence that makes Titus X so much fun. Even when the play drags towards the end, the cast's conviction and their flair for the ridiculous keep everyone entertained.
The small performance space of Chashama is used extremely well. While some of the songs are sung straight out to the audience, others are more physical, and the cast never lets a few hand-held mikes stop them from smacking, shoving, and stabbing each other with great fervor. The lighting is also remarkably effective, drowning the stage in intense color and evocative shadow from only a few sources. The costumes add to the fun of the evening, changing quickly as actors shift from one character to the next. Decked out in punk, retro, gothic, and hipster gear, the actors transform Chashama's 42nd street location into St. Marks Place at midnight, and the audience is happy to make the trip.
Each of the actors has their moment of brilliance, but some shine more often than others. Joe Pindelski and Ben Pryor are especially versatile and energetic, and their performance is aided by the fact that they can sing well in the various styles of punk, rock, and musical theater. Pryor also impresses due to the sheer number of characters he portrays, all with great clarity and hilarity. Bond and Parnas both exude a nice stage presence but are unable to deliver on all of their songs. To their credit, every off-key note is held with the (false) conviction that it is the right one, and the bad singing, when it occurs, actually adds to the show's feeling of anarchy and disobedience.
The major problem with Titus X is that it does not really know what it wants to be. While the show starts off as an in-your-face punk explosion, that energy soon tapers off into musical-theater land. This mixed-up musicality was evident in the singing, which sometimes wavered between two styles within the same song. But maybe I am taking Titus X too seriously. Maybe a mixed-up, pointless teenager is precisely what this show wants to be. Its angst is voiced with a lot of heart, and in the end its ridiculousness and inconsistencies actually make it endearing. The show also has a darker side. Titus X takes two things that are often treated with the utmost seriousness--Murder and Shakespeare--and pulls the rug out from beneath them. When we squeal at Lavinia