Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mark Oram: His Evolving Relationship with 'Titus Andronicus'

Post written by 'Titus Andronicus' cast member, and Grassroots Co-Founder Mark Oram:

Ten years ago, as a little Theatre student at Davis High School, I wanted to compete with a monologue at the Utah Shakespeare Festival competition. I searched through a few plays until I stumbled upon a speech that gripped my attention - a speech in which a revenge-crazed father invites his handless and tongue-less daughter to witness the cold-blooded execution of her rapists. The material was shocking and grotesque and fascinating; arresting in its urgency and violence. It was a delightfully barbaric piece to perform, and I can still vividly remember competing with it down in Cedar City.

Now that I'm a drama teacher, sending students of my own to the competition, I've suddenly landed the opportunity to play the role of Titus in Grassroots Shakespeare Company's Halloween production. Coming back to this material with more experience, a more critical eye, and a more personal understanding of fatherhood, has been simply joyous. Perhaps that sounds strange, but as an actor I've always relished the opportunity to explore the breadth and depth of human emotion and experience that, in our daily lives, we (thankfully) don't often encounter. Finding the hurt, the compulsion for absolute vengeance, the bitterness of having been wronged and violated so deeply, has been an insane amount of fun as an actor.

And not only have I found a stronger connection to Titus as a character, I think I've finally come to really respect the brilliance of this play. It's often demeaned as mere blood sport, but I think there's quite a bit beneath its gory surface that rewards the thoughtful viewer. Its vivid depiction of the downward spiral that is 'revenge' is so sadly applicable to our current national and international conflicts. Its depictions of racism and misogyny are disturbing, but by the end of the play you begin to realize that Shakespeare has undermined those ideas by showing 'a wilderness of tigers' beneath even the pious, orderly, and culturally privileged. Vengeance corrupts, regardless of the moral justification used to excuse or hide it.

But beyond personal musings and new insights into the play, perhaps the best part of this process has been working with such a brilliantly talented and dedicated cast. I wonder sometimes how we manage to find these people. All our returning Grassrooters are of course wonderful to work with - Nick Grossaint, Jessamyn Svensson, Andy Hansen, Jessica Jean Myer, Shawn Saunders, Addison Radle, Eric Geels, and of course the incomparable Alex Ungerman. And then these newbies! AJ Taysom, Nick Gledhill, Landon Kraczek, and freakin' Claire Inette Wilson. Unreal amounts of talent! These actors have been so willing and open-hearted and honest and focused... and the performances they've brought have simply blown me away. I couldn't be prouder of a cast. 

Titus Andronicus is often laughed off as Shakespeare's amoral, meaningless gore-fest. But in its own time, the eminent theatre critic Ben Johnson claimed it was one of the two greatest plays of Shakespeare's era! For real! I think if you come see it, you may not ultimately agree with that sentiment, but you will certainly be swept along on a harrowing, disturbing, frightening, and ultimately cathartic experience like no other. If nothing else, this play is visceral, immediate, and raw. Those qualities that drew me to it in high school have only become more compelling and nuanced over time. I can't recommend this piece highly enough - if you think you can stomach the content, I promise you will have an unforgettable night of theatre.

It's certainly been an unforgettable ride for this actor.

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