“Titus Andronicus” Brings Compelling Horror to Topanga, CA

Left to Right are Michelle Wicklas (Lavinia), Sheridan Crist (Titus Andronicus), Melora Marshall (Marcia Andronicus) and Willow Geer (Lucia) in William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus," which is currently playing at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, Calif. Photo credit: Miriam Geer

Once in a while, it does one good to be shocked, awed, and made to tremble at the sight of the worst that man or woman is capable of for no other reason than to warn against the grimmest of history repeating itself. William Shakespeare wrote the grisly “Titus Andronicus” in the late 1500s, and based his play on the graphic corruption of power in latter-day Rome, delving into the depths to which one will go to grab it, and the inhuman lengths one will go to maintain it.

Christopher W. Jones (Saturninus) in William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus." Photo credit: Miriam Geer

Christopher W. Jones (Saturninus) in William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Photo credit: Miriam Geer

The horror begins with the death of a president, and the disagreement over who will succeed him – his sons; or war hero and people’s choice, Titus, who also brings with him prisoners of war, including a Queen (Tamora), her three sons (Alarbus, Chiron, and Demetrius), and her secret lover Aaron. When Titus sacrifices Alarbus’ life and relinquishes power to one of the president’s sons (Saturninus), a labyrinthine loop of revenge and unconscionable bloodletting accentuates the stakes.

The inhumanity committed by the characters in this play is the most salient motif rendered, outlined and punctuated in crimson, culminating in a red blare of barbarity. There are a few differences in this rendition of “Titus Andronicus,” however. This one is set in the near future, and the genders of two of the characters have been changed – Marcus Andronicus is Marcia (Titus’ sister), and Lucius is Lucia (Titus’ eldest daughter), the latter of whom, inhabited purposefully by Willow Geer, ascends as the rightful leader in the wake of strewn carnage at the play’s end.

In getting there, the nightmarish journey is engrossing because of the intense pistons who drive it. Shakespeare veteran Sheridan Crist plays the embodiment of good as Titus, and Michael McFall redefines the meaning of evil as Aaron, bringing a layer of darkness not previously thought possible. Crist infuses his character with unremitting potency, bordering on justifiable insanity. He gives his entire spirit and being to the way he processes the unspeakable acts which befall his character, Titus. Crist’s voice is robust, his body appropriately overwrought, and his facial expressions emblematic of an unflappable courage before the heavy burden of devastation forces his character to put his crippled daughter, Lavinia, out of her misery.

Michelle Wicklas (Lavinia) in William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus." Photo credit: Miriam Geer

Michelle Wicklas (Lavinia) in William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Photo credit: Miriam Geer

McFall, similarly, has an astounding command of the stage where all eyes directly go to him, beguiled by his compelling interpretation of Shakespeare’s macabre story. As Aaron the Moor, attendees can see the relish of evil in his eyes, the passion with which he frolics with Queen Tamora (Marie Francoise Theodore), his diabolical servings of maleficent speech, and yet, the fatherly sympathy he evokes when he holds his baby in his arms. Certainly, it’s a testament to McFall’s otherworldly ability whereby he can mesmerize as the devil incarnate and be a loving father within a two-hour span.

Michelle Wicklas deserves ample credit for her commitment to the terribly tragic Lavinia – a character who experiences the terror of rape, limb decapitation, and the cutting out of her tongue. Much of the play is anchored by the savagery that ravages the humanity out of her, and Wicklas properly conveys the hysteria of the tense moments enveloping her character, as well as the panicked cries for help in the face of what is unforgivably foregone.

Michael McFall (Aaron the Moor) and Nima Jafari (Chiron) in William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus." Photo credit: Miriam Geer

Michael McFall (Aaron the Moor) and Nima Jafari (Chiron) in William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Photo credit: Miriam Geer

Christopher W. Jones and Melora Marshall are also well cast as Saturninus and Marcia Andronicus, respectively. Impressively, both individuals bring a strong-willed constitution to their roles. As Saturninus, Jones is charismatic but covetously power-hungry; and as Marcia, Marshall offers the strength of morality and kindness when challenged by the incorrigibly wicked.

Marie Francoise Theodore, Nima Jafari, and Miebaka Yohannes, who play the triumvirate of nefariousness, are willing and convincing antagonists as Tamora and her sons Chiron and Demetrius. Because of them, the battle of good and evil is as palpable and shockingly memorable as it is in “Titus Andronicus.”

Directed by Ellen Geer, William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” currently playing at the historic Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum (outdoor amphitheatre) in Topanga, CA, features an all-star cast of captivating actors, and is highly recommended for balancing the skill of performance and the medium of horror with astonishing ease.

There are nine more performances of “Titus Andronicus” at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum – on Sunday, August 14th; Sunday, August 21st; Friday, August 26th; Sunday August 28th; Saturday, September 3rd; Sunday, September 11th; Friday, September 16th; Sunday September 25th; and Saturday October 1st. All showtimes are 7:30 pm.

For more information about “Titus Andronicus,” and other shows playing at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, please visit:


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