Blood, Guts & Dance: 'Titus Redux' at the Kirk Douglas
The genius of director John Farmanesh-Bocca's pairing of such themes with his company's use of physical theater and dance is to provide an emotional access point to otherwise unjustified, laughable atrocities. Titus' return from a decade at war (here, five tours of duty in Iraq), tips the balance of his domestic home front, and as his sanity recedes, his family unit (along with a little help from a magnificently unscrupulous neighbor) decentralizes and turns inward on itself in shocking violence.
The choreography taps that inner part of ourselves that is unable to misinterpret movement - unable to scoff in the face of emotion writ in all our own bones - and we become similiarly unable to resist the truth of the disorientation of the battlefield, the exhilarating sway of the bonds of lust, even the fundamentally impelling forces of love between parent and child.
The seven-person ensemble deftly bridges verse, contemporary dialogue and athletic choreography as much to leap story points as to pry open the emotional cores of the characters. Margeaux J. London's Lavinia in particular is developed as more than the pawn of all others' machinations, becoming through girlishly charming and then pitifully wounded movement the lyrically expressed result of the inversion of staunch principles. Chiron and Demetrius (Vincent Cardinale and Dash Pepin, also assistant choreographers) quite literally bear the weight of the sparring of Tamora (a striking Brenda Strong) and Titus (a strong if occassionally taxed Jack Stehlin), creating stunning moments of recognizability out of the brute plotting of the play.
By the time the tilting merry-go-round of Titus' intermittent sanity has full hold of the world onstage, the door to pop cultural symbolism has been swung wide open, and a final rousing Rockettes-style dance number hints at how we, as Americans, might use the play as an access point to think over our place in the world. The distance we have come is both traceable and bewildering, and the echoing confusion of our principles and our prosaic liberties - verdant lawns, supermarkets, the ability to be unaware of our neighbors - pulses just below the surface of our unmolested way of life.
For all its heights, "Titus Redux" in the end manages to introduce a couple ultimately unproductive threads. Farmanesh-Bocca would be well served to find a writer and videographer as skilled as himself in the abstractive capabilities of those mediums. Aaron the Moor (also Farmanesh-Bocca), here an Islamic extremist who manipulates the image of Titus' enemy as much as our own discomort with confronting recent history, becomes too difficult to disentagle with his weight of associations and conceptual layering. Still, only two partial missteps amidst such a tall order are remarkable - and the production amply deserves all the audience it can scare up.
Tues - Sat, 8 pm, through Sept 11; Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City; tickets at http://www.circustheatricals.com/tickets.html or (310) 701-0788.
Reach reporter Rebecca Kinskey here.