After 10 years fighting the Goths, Roman General Titus Andronicus (Tara Henry) returns home, triumphantly dragging his prisoners of war. When Tamora, Queen of the Goths, pleads for her son's life, Titus ignores her and has him executed—setting Tamora's revenge on Andronicus' family in motion.
Shakespeare didn't set his play in Iraq, but the first few minutes of director Ed Landa's adaptation—black-hooded, half-naked POWs; martial music; people being hacked apart by machetes—recall the nightly news like a brick in the face. Acted on set designer Maureen Weiss' industrial abattoir of a set, under Marie Yokoyama's bloody mood lighting, the Bard's messages couldn't be timelier: ratcheting up violence on one side of a conflict only intensifies violence from the other side, and collateral damage is used as a military tactic more often than we think.
Too bad this provocative concept is sideswiped by ill-conceived "blind" casting—roles written for men are played by women, a white actress plays a black man, etc.—and by Landa's faulty vision. "I wanted to show that women are just as capable as men of being violent and thick-headed," he says in the press release. Interesting, but redundant: the original play already shows that women can be evil, when Tamora sets her two remaining children to rape and dismember Titus' daughter. And he is simply not correct: now, as in the past, the wholesale slaughter of war remains the province of men.
Titus Andronicus at Cal State Long Beach, Studio Theatre, Seventh St. between West and East Campus drs., Long Beach, (562) 985-5526. Tues.-Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m. Through March 30. $12-$15.