Titus Bouffonius is hilarious, haunting

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The Society for the Destitute presents Titus Bouffonius | Rumble Theatre | The Cultch Historic Theatre | November 22 – December 3, 2017

You wouldn’t normally think of Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s bloodiest, most gruesome play, as a comedy. But at the hands of bouffon clowns Sob, Spark, Boots, Fink, and Leap, it’s hilarious.

The ramshackle set of wooden planks, tires, and junk heaps is detailed and immersive as the bouffons skulk around telling the tale of Titus. The troupe explains that they chose to do an adaptation of Titus Andronicus because it has the most murders (“thank you taxpayers” they add cheekily).

What makes this adaptation even more absurd is the use of small plastic dolls to represent all the secondary characters, red plastic knives serving as swords, and a chalk board displaying the names of all the characters who will die. Every so often one of the bouffons veers off into a different Shakespeare play, reciting something from Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet, and the others all shout in unison: “Wrong!”

This may sound like a mess, but it actually works. Amidst all the buffoonery are some very dark moments, including the rape scene; Lavinia spitting out her bloody, severed tongue; and subsequently trying to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” When her father can’t understand what  she’s saying when she tries to tell him who raped and disfigured her, she pulls out her tampon and writes their names in blood on the stage. Pippa Mackie as Lavinia was the star of the show as far as I’m concerned. She made us laugh while also conveying her intense suffering. She gave an impassioned speech about her right as a woman, declaring “I’m the boss of my body.”

Titus’ revenge pie in which he cooks Lavinia’s rapists makes for a just dessert as Tamora, the rapists’ mother, eats it with glee. As the remaining characters kill each other in this gory tragedy, ketchup bottles spurt blood all over the stage and naked dolls dangle from the ceiling as a baby cries. It’s a haunting final image to a haunting dark comedy of betrayal, abuse, and revenge.   

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