"Y'see, Harry, there's this Roman general -- right, like in Gladiator, exactly -- and he comes back from a war against the Goths, with . . . what? No, Harry, not the teenage kids who dress in black, the ancient tribe. Right, those Goths, ya mook. So he comes back to Rome from a war against the Goths, and he's got their Queen prisoner.
"So the Queen takes up with this local big shot, but on the side she's messing around with this black guy who's an evil genius, and they decide to get even with this general. So the boyfriend talks the Queen's two sons into raping the general's daughter, and then cutting off her hands and tongue so's she can't squeal on them. Yeah, I know, Harry, we might have to take an NC-17, but maybe we can cut around it. Anyways, Harry, there's more . . ."
There is indeed lots more in Titus Andronicus -- more savage revenge killings and severed body parts, even a bit of cannibalism at the climax. This tragedy, thought to be one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, was also one of his most popular during the dramatist's own lifetime. Later ages, particularly the Victorians, have tried to deny that Shakespeare wrote it, out of a distaste both for its atrocities and for its plodding faux-Senecan verse. But it has a crackling theatrical energy that seems unmistakably Shakespearean, and its reputation as stageworthy has grown in our bloody age (Julie Taymor recently made an artsy film version, Titus, with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange).
Valley audiences get a chance to see this too-rarely-performed work onstage when The Shakespeare Theatre's final production of the season opens with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 7, Friday, June 8, and Saturday, June 9; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 10. The run continues through Sunday, June 24. The venue is Cactus High School Auditorium, 6330 West Greenway Road in Glendale. Tickets, available at the door, are $12, $10 for seniors and active military, $5 for students. It's recommended for adults. Call 602-272-0931 for details.