Another season for the Flowertown Underground closes with William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” which runs from July 18-21.
This piece—Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy—is certainly not performed as often as some of his other works. However, he shocks audiences with blood and gore. Flowertown Underground’s artistic director, Ernie Eliason, plays the title role.
Titus Andronicus is a man seeking vengeance after his daughter is brutally raped. Filled with intense and powerful imagery, Titus explores the cost of gratification through violent acts.
Directed by John Bryan, it’s all too clear why this play was such a hit. I interviewed Ernie and John, along with Executive Director Courtney Bates.
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Regan: How was this work picked to be the season finale?
Courtney Bates: This work was chosen by our Underground team. They were intrigued with the idea of producing a work of Shakespeare that is rarely performed. This show can be technically challenging as it calls for blood, elaborate death scenes, and versatile props and the Underground team was thrilled to take it on and put their skills to the test.
R: Overall, is it more challenging to learn Shakespeare compared to other theatrical works?
John Bryan: The language is always the barrier. Yet, in terms of plot or character, Shakespeare gives us very human and relatable themes. It’s just a matter of learning the words, examining and studying the words, and then expressing them.
R: Tell us about this fictional character, Titus Andronicus, a Roman general and what it is like to play this character?
Ernie Eliason: Titus believes in and has fought for the ideal of Rome all his life. He comes home victorious after many years at war in hopes of retiring and living out his days in peace. Then, stroke by stroke, he is beaten down and dishonored and scorned. Playing this character is emotionally exhausting – displaying pride, rage, pity, pain, sorrow, madness and revenge. Titus runs the gamut between these emotions and has given me the opportunity to explore the darker aspects of my own soul without having to, you know, commit any felonies.
R: John, what’s it like to direct a Shakespearean play, especial one with such dark themes as this one?
Bryan: You must find the line between doing justice to the darker themes and not going overboard into gratuitousness. I was careful to stage certain moments in a way that is graphic and clearly violent, but still only implies the action of the scene. You can’t back down from this kind of thing. You can’t take the teeth from the tiger because all that is left are the stripes; then, you basically just have a damn zebra.
R: Who are some of the other key actors in the play and their roles?
Bates: Kathleen O’Shaughnessy plays Tamora, Queen of the Goths and does a fantastic job at playing Titus’ adversary. RJ Brooklyn Lee brings Aron the Moor, a truly devious character to life and plays a catalyst to all the wrongdoings in Rome. You will be moved by Maddie Latham’s portrayal of Lavinia, Titus’ daughter, who is brutally abused.
R: What has the cast and crew learned the most by staging this type of play compared to your other plays?
Bryan: That sounds like a question for them, really. However, we are using a relatively unique staging plan. We’ve really examined positioning and placement in terms of how that pushes the narrative and expresses the character.
R: What’s the biggest takeaway for the audience from this Shakespeare play?
Bryan: I really think the lesson here is to be wary of the corrosive nature of vengeance. We are the only animals which actively plot and pursue vengeance and, thus, are the only ones that know her hunger. Vengeance is a jealous and insatiable god, consuming everything thrown on the altar and always demanding more. I really hope that this production changes how someone reacts to their problems and realize there are better ways to deal with being wronged than one-upmanship.
Mary E. Regan, columnist, is a publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy. Story ideas? Email: Mary@ProPublicist.com.