★★★★★ - Irresistible
As a theatre critic, I always believed there is no better satisfaction than seeing a good production; one for which the presenting organization has seen to every detail. So, I’ll be honest here. It was with great dread that I gathered my notepad, pen, and tiny book light, my ever-present go-cup of iced tea (I’m sure by now most think it’s vodka, or at least liquor-spiked something) and made my way to my SUV. I sat there and tried to conjure an excuse for not going.
I mean, come on, can anything be worse than a poor production of The Bard’s plays? But my conscience will not allow me to operate that way. Guilt would consume me. I would go. I would suffer for art’s sake.
It seems I’ve been schooled, instructed as to the error of my thinking. By a bunch of middle school kids, no less.
Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” presented by Dawson Middle School at the Onyx Theatre, is an absolute top-notch production. Not because the sets or costumes and props are elaborate; they aren’t. But they’re very fitting for what’s happening on the stage. It’s not because the actors are consummate professionals; they aren’t. But, the members of this cast—every last one of them—are spot on.
Now, let’s be clear. “Titus Andronicus” is one of the most violent plays you will ever see. There’s blood and gore and talk of rape and murder, all manner of “triggers” today’s teachers must be aware of before delving into any subject. And, I’m a purist when it comes to messing with a script, particularly Will’s. But this take, this mash-up, is funny and, dare I say it, brilliant.
Without giving away too much…Thomas Chrastka plays Mr. Benjamin, teacher and director to a school play, whose marriage and life are falling to pieces very much in line with the script. Chrastka plays it to the hilarious hilt without going overboard. He treads that fine line between realism and tongue-shoved-firmly-against-cheek.
Ken Haley, Gary Easton, Noa Agastein, Joshua Smithline, Jolie Mountain, Maxwell Claydon all take on the major roles of the play. Cash Freeman, Ashlee Grubbs, and Will Haley do triple or double duty with the minor characters. Now, it may be inexperience that helped them deliver their lines in such a fitting manner, but I believe it’s because they’re actually talented kids. They never stumbled over the Elizabethan prose, delivered the iambic with pure meaning, mixing it up with everyday English with skill.
I left after the 55-minute performance thinking how much fun adults would have doing this show. After some thought, I wondered if an adult cast could do it the same justice.
Mom and Dad: Before you grab your children and head off, you should be aware that there really are adult themes within the script. And there’s violence galore; hands get chopped off, characters are gutted, severed feet and heads are paraded and waved around. And the modern day language is spiced with some words you may not want your little ones to hear. This is definitely PG-13.
But the entire thing is a hoot. You should get over there to see it before they bus-and-truck it to LA to take part in a June fringe festival. The kids will ask you in the lobby after the play to contribute to their fundraising efforts for the trip. Please give generously. They deserve it.
What: Titus Andronicus (Jr.)
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through May 28
5 p.m. Sunday May 22
Where: Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E Sahara Avenue
Tickets: $20 (702-732-7225; www.onyxtheatre.com)
Grade: ***** (Irresistible)
Producer: Off-Strip Productions; Director: (we suspect) Troy Heard; Set Design: Mr. benjamin’s Third Period; Costume Design: Mrs. Claydon; Lighting Design: Mr. Jenkins’ Shop Class; Music: Mr. Benjamin