Sign up for our free newsletter
The patrons folding themselves into Playbill Café’s cozy theater before the first performance of Mondo Andronicus murmured anxiously about avoiding the front rows. In practical terms, Molotov Theatre Group’s mission of “preserving and exploring the aesthetic of the Grand Guignol” means maybe skip the preshow meal and bring a towel. A severe compression of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the earliest and gnarliest of his tragedies (though you have to figure he was going for a Sam Raimi-like gore-comedy thing even then) fits these guys like a bloody glove, what with all the right-there-inna-text disemboweling and de-tongue-ing and un-handing, climaxing in Tamora, Queen of the Goths, chowing “daintily” down on some tasty loinfruit pie. Oh, I forgot the infanticide! And well, interracial sex—that would have been a titillating abomination to the original audience for this thing, right? In their most self-congratulatory, ah, enhancement, adaption-writer Russ Blackwood, director Lucas Maloney, and goremeister (his actual credit) Alex Zavistovich have even added a spectacularly graphic episode of un-manning. Burly Zavistovich has a weary authority in the title role as the Roman general who gets done way worse than Colin Powell did for his loyal service, but his isn’t the only memorable performance. D.C. newcomer Cyle Durkee, double-cast as the craven Saturninus and savage Demetrius, has a voice and a leer that make your skin start sloughing off when you remember them later. (We know Saturninus is a tool because he’s wearing a Creed T-shirt.) JaBen Early seethes with coiled antipathy as Aaron, and Ty Hallmark is a sinuous Tamora in her black bustier and boots. Aaron Tone, who also appears as Marcus and Quintus, provided the graffiti (“I tossed Caesar’s salad!”) that makes the set look like a punk club bathroom, an effective, lo-fi way of conjuring a debauched-in-victory Rome. The production’s frenetic economy is its greatest asset—it barely cracks the one-hour mark. The best 1/12th of that is the midshow interlude devoted to the “skinhead Hamlet,” the one bedecked with David Mamet’s favorite word, the one where instead of the melancholy Dane taking too long to avenge his father, Ophelia takes too long to drown. It’s a fun, irreverent package, perfect for the Fringe Festival or the back of a beloved theater bar. But if grisly schlock is not your evidence bag, you’d do well to stay far, far away. Or at least try for a seat in the back.