Titus Andronicus was Shakespeare’s first tragedy and by far his bloodiest. Ironically enough, the director for Kalamazoo College’s production of the play, Kevin Dodd, is also the director for Great Lakes Peace Jam—a peace promoting organization.
There’s nine deaths on stage, a rape, cannibalism and all sorts of gruesome acts in Titus Andronicus. So why act out this Shakespeare play?
“While it is quite violent, I believe that if we’re going to work for peace we need to recognize the problems and the violence in the world for what it is. And not shield ourselves away from it,” says Director Kevin Dodd. “We can ignore them and put it all into the background noise of who died today in the Middle East on the radio we hear and in the news. Or we can say ‘No. Look, there are injustices in the world’ and we need to recognize that not just hide from it. Because that’s going to be the first step toward doing something about it.”
The play is about a cycle of revenge that all starts with a tortured Roman war hero named Titus Andronicus. When the play begins, Titus has just returned from a 10 year long war with the Goths. The Romans defeated the Goths, but Titus is still haunted by the war.
“The best part of this play is not that he’s at war, it’s that he’s done with the war and we see that the war is not done with him,” says Stefano Cagnato, who plays the role of Titus. “And I think that’s something that we—a lot of times we forget. We see people who went to war, who fought and we’re like ‘Well, you’re not there anymore.’ But that doesn’t mean that the war is not with them, that the effects of the war aren’t still with them.”
Titus starts the cycle of violence by sacrificing the child of Tamora, Queen of the Goths. So, Tamora spends the majority of the play trying to get revenge on Titus and his family. Director Kevin Dodd added monologes between scenes in the play, told from the perspective of forgotten victims of past wars. He calls these characters a “Chorus of Collateral Damage.”
“This is not a story about the leaders of countries. This is not a story about the generals and the emperors and the people making the decisions to go to war and the people making the decisions to continue a revenge cycle on the highest levels. But it’s also about these people we forget about who are dying because they step on a land mine ten years after a war,” Dodd says. “What is it that is going to make us stop and pay attention? At what point do we say ‘Ok, this is enough and we need to stop this’? And I really feel like that’s what he [Shakespeare] is saying in this story.”
You can see Titus Andronicus at Kalamazoo College through Sunday.