In his odd, entertaining production, director Steven Sabel gives Shakespeare's sadistic tale of vengeance and bloodlust a True Blood twist, reimagining the play as a gothic story of warfare between two vampire clans. Conquered Goth queen Tamora (Jennifer Blanck, beautifully icy) marries the Roman emperor Saturninus (Jordan Maxwell), who offers her a "blood gift," following which she avenges herself against her great rival Titus (Tom Newman). Tamora's thug sons (Mike Eastman and Nick Zaharopoulos) rape Titus' daughter Lavinia (Christina Fleming), and then chop off her hands and tongue. In response, Titus kidnaps the boys and throws a party, feeding the sons' flesh to an unwitting Tamora as hors d'ouevres. The vampire concept at first sounds as though it could be rather silly, but the eccentric notion ultimately adds a mythic dimension to the play's sequences of unbridled cruelty and operatic emotion. The atmosphere of myth is underscored by blocking that often consists of Kabuki-like gestures and emotional expressions of operatic, heightened reality these are predatory characters who are driven by their root emotions of hatred and rage. In the end, here's a production of Titus that gives the audience exactly what it wants: terrifying horrors, staged with an unabashed love of Grand Guignol. Lavinia has been dragged off to be raped, and returns dangling meat-tipped stumps where her hands were and vomiting blood every time she tries to speak. Sabel's pruning of Shakespeare's text can sometimes seem as ferocious as the Moor's slicing off of Titus' arm, but the staging's fierce energy is both harrowing and effective. Particularly powerful turns are offered by Blanck, by Kyle Goldsberry's evil Moor, and Fleming's hapless, tragically destined Lavinia. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri. & Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru October 16. (818) 202-4120.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Starts: Sept. 17. Continues through Oct. 16, 2010