How’s your summer been? Peaceful, relaxing, a time to enjoy outdoor activities?
If so, Summer Shakespeare would like to introduce a huge dose of revenge, murder — and some suspicious meat pies — to your summer playlist.
The Fleeing Artists’ theater group kicks off its second season (and its sixth season of Summer Shakespeare) with the Bard’s bloodiest play: “Titus Andronicus.”
Director Bethanne Duffy realizes it’s not your usual breezy summer fare.
“I’m usually drawn to romantic comedies,” she said during a break in rehearsal Tuesday at the Rhode Center for the Arts, where the show opens Friday night. “This is definitely something different.”
Duffy’s been in a few other Shakespeare productions, but this is her first time helming such a violent play.
“A lot of people hate this play,” she said, “because they say it’s too dark and gruesome. While it’s not lighthearted, it’s still enjoyable.”
Shakespeare set his play during the latter days of the Roman Empire, telling the fictional story of Titus Andronicus, a general in the Roman army.
When Titus is selected by the common people to serve as Rome’s new emperor, he instead selects in his place the eldest son of the previous emperor, the incompetent Saturninus. When Saturninus selects for his queen the vicious Tamora, whose son was brutally murdered by Titus’s family, it sets in motion a cycle of bloody revenge.
Alex Metalsky — one of the founders of Fleeing Artists — describes the play as “basically, if Quentin Tarantino directed an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ and threw in poetic language and references to ‘Sweeney Todd,’ then you would have ‘Titus.’”
For this production, the setting has been moved to the near future, Duffy said, but Shakespeare’s language stays the same.
Austin Babel, who plays Quintus, one of Titus’s sons, is performing in his first Shakespeare play.
“I’m really liking it,” he said, “in part because I’m a big history nerd. Shakespeare is so good at putting on display our weaknesses as humans. The language is tough to master, but it really adds to the show.”
Ariana Gibeault is playing Lucius, Titus’s eldest son.
“We’re doing the character in an androgynous way,” she explained. “It’s an interesting way to play it; I’m not a warrior man; I’m a warrior person.”
Director Duffy said “by casting gender aside, we’re able to focus on Lucius’s characteristics.”
Gibeault, a theater student at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, is a Shakespeare rookie and said the language “gives you so much to play with. It’s almost like a song, and you can really dig into it.”
Babel — also a student at UW-Parkside, studying computer science — said the drama, written in the late 1500s, “is still relevant today. We still see such violence and revenge. Human nature really hasn’t changed.”
The biggest challenge for Gibeault “is trying to embody the brutality because I’m a very nice person. I would never call for someone’s death.”
Samantha Gibson, an elementary school music teacher, is working on her first play ever.
And she’s certainly started with a tough subject.
“I wanted to try something different this summer,” she explained about taking on production assistant duties. This play “does stand the test of time,” she said.
Despite the overall brutal story, Duffy said they are finding some humor in the play. “It’s not all constant darkness and sadness,” she said. “Revenge and violence are the two big themes and, sadly, it’s still present today.”
Audience members, Babel said, will find that Shakespeare’s tragedy “helps us feel connected to humanity. We still pay attention to the classics for a reason.”