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Arts and Entertainment

Theater Review: Titus Andronicus with a Vampire Twist in NoHo

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Kyle Goldsberry and Jennifer Blanck add blood and lust to Titus Andronicus at Zombie Joe's Theater. | Photo: Steven Sabel.

Kyle Goldsberry and Jennifer Blanck add blood and lust to Titus Andronicus at Zombie Joe's Theater. | Photo: Steven Sabel.

Titus Andronicus, one of William Shakespeare's earliest tragedies, is influenced by Greek mythology. Violence? Check. Human sacrifice? Check. Revenge? Check. Lust and sex? Check and double-check. In the Grand Guignol tradition, Titus Andronicus is a brutal, yet successful Roman general who's been away for 10 years fighting their dreaded enemies, the Goths. Upon his triumphant return to Rome--with Tamora, the queen of the Goths and her sons in tow--Titus Andronicus is named emperor. But he turns the job down in favor of one of the dead emperor's sons, Bassianus. He even gives the new emperor his daughter Lavinia in marriage--even though she was betrothed to Bassianus's brother. So there's a problem right there.

Another problem is that Titus feels the need to sacrifice Tamora's eldest son in order to ensure that his sons, who died in war, can rest in peace. The Goth queen begs for her son's life, but he kills him anyway. Naturally, Tamora promises to exact her own revenge.

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Christina Fleming as Lavinia in Titus Andronicus with Nick Zaharopoulos as Chiron. | Photo: Steven Sabel
A number of characters lose their lives (or heads, arms and tongues) in the twisted plot of Titus Andronicus. But a new production at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group --written and adapted by Stephen Sabel--adds an even more bizarre and bloody twist to the drama: The Romans and Goths have been transformed into blood-sucking vampires who dress in Victorian attire.For the most part, the cast does an admirable job with the Bard's lines, although some of the actors seemed to be more comfortable with the material than others. Jennifer Blanck (Tamora) and Kyle Goldsberry (Aaron the Moor) are standouts in their roles as the devious lovers. Christina Fleming (Lavinia) is also good as Titus's poor, ravaged daughter who bears the brunt of brutality in the play. (Although Tamora does get served a meat pie that's not exactly made of meat....)

The small space is devoid of design, forcing you to concentrate on the characters and dialogue. At times, the stage seemed too small for such a large cast--and a few members of the cast over-projected for the space. (There are only three rows of trust us, we can hear you.)

Shakespeare's play is already intense to begin with, so you'd think that vampires would add even more gore and schlock, but in this case, not so much. Yes, the killing is mostly done by bites through the neck or stakes through the heart, but Sabel's version doesn't go far enough. In this case a little over-the-top would have made more sense when tacking on a vampire twist to an already bloody spectacle.

Titus Andonicus
Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group
4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 pm
Through Oct. 16
Tickets: $15