A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Titus Andronicus & A Catharsis That Passed Me By
Saturday, September 20, 2008

Catharis: Asthetics: The effect of certain kinds of art, esp tragedy and music, in relieving or purging the emotions of an audience.
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language The Unabridged Edition

If there were reason for these miseries,
Then into limits could I bind my woes.

Titus from William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, III, Scene 1

Every man has a breaking point.

You can push a guy to the limit...But expect consequences.

Tag lines for Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, 1971

Are we at all meant to sympathize with his endless, play-long sufferings, compared with which Job's are only noisy self-indulgences?
Harold Bloom on Titus Andronicus from his book Shakespeare The Invention of the Human, 1998

In 1972 Rosemary and I lived in Mexico City. Every day we drove in bumper to bumper traffic in the city's periférico or freeway. We worked long hours teaching high school and teaching English in large American companies like Colgate Palmolive, Richardson-Merrill and Westin Hotels. We had a daugther Ale 3 and a few month's old Hilary. We did not know to what extent we were living a life of extreme stress. We found out one Friday night when we went to see Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs with Susan George and Dustin Hoffman. While we had seen Peckinpah's previous blood bath, The Wild Bunch we were not ready for the close quarter (in one house) violence of this film. By the end I was cheering inside as Hoffman's character, David Sumner, blasted away one more villain with a shotgun. When we left I remember distinctly telling Rosemary, "This is the perfect film for a Friday night after a terrible week of having to drive agressively (you could not get into the freeway unless you did) and teaching spoiled and rich American kids." I remember adding, "It gave me the same feeling of peace and relief as when I used to go to Roman Catholic confession."

Last night Rosemary and I went to Bard On the Beach's production (the last perfromance) of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. I had read the play many times but I had never seen it performed on stage and I had never seen the film version. I expected an evening of catharsis.

While on the line-up to get in we noticed that a couple of actors were rehearsing a fight scene inside the Titus Andronicus tent. I told Rosemary, "If they have to rehearse this scene on the last night, after months of playing it, there has to be something wrong with this play. I am going to ask the director (Kim Collier, see photograph below) if she is here tonight."

Sitting in the front row with a nice and warm blanket while we munched on chocolate and feasted on the candied (with cheese, too) popcorn sold on the premises we had an enjoyable evening of theatre. Somehow Rosemary survived all the gory scenes, When Julie McIssac's Lavinia spewed out dark and sticky blood from her mouth (her tongue had been cut out by the evil Demetrius, Charles Gallant (photo top left) and Chiron, Kule Rideout), even I felt queasy.

As we were leaving we ran into director Kim Collier so I was able to ask her a couple of questions. "Every fight scene in a play has to be rehearsed every day for safety reasons," Collier told me. When I asked her if directors attend every night she said,"By contract we are obliged only to attend the first performance. Tonight is only my second time. It is different with dance as choreographers are compelled to attend every performance."

As we drove home I tought about catharsis and why Titus Andronicus a play of revenge as much as The Straw Dogs was a play of revenge did not affect in me a such a feeling. The actors were excellent, the direction was top notch. The costumes were interesting and some of the dresses that Tamora the Queen of the Goths (Jennifer Lines) wore were beautiful. Her sons, Demetrius and Chiron were a fantastic surprise of costuming every time they appeared on stage. What was it?

In Vancouver we don't have to drive agressively nor worry about being stopped by a thirsty-for-a-bribe Mexican traffic cop. Life is more or less predictable and inflation is mostly in check. Life is good in Vancouver. Rosemary and I don't need a catharsis! I remember my grandmother saying, "Hay que tener la paciencia del santo." One must have the patience of the saint. The saint in question was the biblical Job. Nothing that could possibly happen to us (touch wood) could compare with that santo's and Titus Andronicus's woes.

What is Charlie Gallant holding in his hands? The quote is from Samuel Beckett and it reads: Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better. This is Gallant's favourite quote and it inspires him to press his limits when he is on the stage. Surely this young actor will be surprising us and thrilling us with performances to come.

Rosemary and I look forward to more of that popcorn when we see Christopher Gaze play King Lear next week.


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