Revenge, a dish best served fresh on the Swarthmore stage

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When you see primetime news reports about civilian casualties in the Middle East, mass shootings in United States grade schools and movie theaters, and unwarranted law enforcement brutality in urban settings, you don’t think Swarthmore College theater. However, theatre major Josh McLucas ’15 has much to say about the relevance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to modern day violence.

McLucas made the decision to put on a production of Titus after re-visiting Shakespeare’s lesser known works. “Something about Titus’ frankness and explicitness stuck out to me. It was a different quality from other Shakespeare plays,” he says.

Participating in an Anthropology of Mass Media class made something click for McLucas. He was struck by how the context and content of “Titus” was significantly relevant to issues of violence portrayed in the media.  He explains that viewing the play in the context of the modern military and prison atrocities has the spectator facing violence that is not remotely gratuitous. It is argued that of all Shakespeare’s works, the play remains the most relevant to today’s society. “You can pick up a newspaper and read about events taking place just like events in the play. It’s still so relevant.”

McLucas stresses that while he condemns the horrible occurrences in the play, he does not intend to make an explicit statement. “I would like to avoid coming across as didactic. I would never say soldiers or American soldiers are bad,” he urges. Rather than offer explanations, opinions, or criticisms, McLucas wants the production to prod audience members to reflect for themselves. “I want to awaken spectators to realize their relationship with the events on stage, but not in a finger pointing way.”

When asked to speak about issues of sexual assault in this production, McLucas stressed that rape is one of the main plot events. It was not given additional attention despite any relevance to the college’s current political culture. “I didn’t want to approach it in light of recent semesters. I wanted to keep it relatively fresh.” A change to make note of is that in this production, the victim of the assault is a transgender male character. “We’re not commenting on it. It just is.”

The fight choreography features realistic props and fake blood, which contribute to the aesthetic of violence and maintain the sense of realness. The assault is portrayed in a more stylistic manner, choreographed on stage with occasional video projections throughout the play. McLucas comments that video projections aren’t used a lot but are an important centerpiece as they reflect media portrayal of violent incidents.

Auditions were recorded by Assistant Director and Stage Manager Treasure Tinsley ’15 and sent to McLucas while he was abroad in London during the fall semester. McLucas states that he wanted to bring a more serious and professional approach to this production than other Yellow Stockings projects. “This play is so large, so operatic. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what makes this play live, and yet we already have incredibly rich textures.”

McLucas had actors use an approach to performance which focuses on physicality as opposed to psychology. “I wanted to be sure that our actors never tried to embody these characters, never tried to think, ‘What does it feel like to have this happen to them?’ That approach to acting is self-destructive and ultimately selfish. By creating form first, emotion has space to surface, and it’s much more controllable and safe.”

The play will run on the LPAC Mainstage. Performances will take place Friday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 22 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 23 at 2 p.m. Spectators are warned that the show contains graphic violence and sexual assault. Concerns about content should be directed to Treasure Tinsley at ttinsle1@swarthmore.edu.

Correction (March 20): Josh McLucas’ class year was mistakenly listed as 2014. In fact, he is a member of the class of 2015.

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