Director Joel Sass has such a strong, infectious sense of storytelling that he even makes Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, proclaimed to be the Bard’s bloodiest play, enjoyable.
It’s not that the play, which has a single issue on its gory mind – the futility and waste of revenge – isn’t interesting. It’s compelling and hideous at the same time.
But what Sass does for the California Shakespeare Theater’s season-opening production of Titus – the first in Cal Shakes’ 37-year history – is heighten the theatricality of the tale, elevate it to grand and glorious storytelling rather than an endlessly horrific parade of one bloody special effect after another.
This is a muscular production of a tough play, mean in spirit and humor. If Shakespeare’s goal is to illuminate the way ego-driven revenge turns life into a cesspit for everyone involved, he certainly succeeds.