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Review: Out of Hand Theater plays Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” as gory comedy

Kelly Miller in "Titus Clown"
Kelly Miller in "Titus Clown"
Kelly Miller in "Titus Clown." (Photos courtesy of Out of Hand Theatre)

It takes a certain type of imagination to pick up Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” — with its murder, madness, dismemberment, cannibalism, rape and revenge — and conclude that you’ve struck comedic gold. But Out of Hand Theater does some admirable comic riffing on Shakespeare’s bloodiest play with its new show, “Titus Clown,” at the Shakespeare Tavern through November 17.

For years, scholars have debated the merits and deficiencies of the Bard’s most problematic “problem play,” so it’s fitting that “Titus Clown” opens with a debate. These clowns don’t say much beyond “beautiful!” and “horrible!” as they flip through the text, and as their debate escalates, their disagreement gets more and more violent — centering on a vomiting and appropriately blood-spurting baby doll — with the clown Pax (Zachary W. Magan) vowing Titus-like vengeance. The show mostly sticks to physical comedy — Shakespeare’s text emerges infrequently — but its Looney Tunes cycle of elaborately plotted revenge, mishaps, mashings and baked human pies makes for a darkly funny contemplation of “Titus” and human violence in general.

Maia Knispel, Zachary Magan and Stephanie Friedman

Much of your reaction to “Titus Clown” will depend on your reaction to physical clowning. If it’s not your thing, this really won’t be your thing. But Out of Hand has found some pretty winning physical comedians in the three leads — Magan, Stephanie Friedman and Maia Knispel — and the goings-on have an inventive “Monty Python meets the most burnt-out teaching assistants from the English department” late-night giddiness. Especially clever are scenes in which the clowns fall down a hole — we follow them into the darkness — and a final battle-to-the-(non)death that’s dizzily gory. Blake Myers, a designer for the TV series “Walking Dead,” designed the blood effects, and he clearly had some fun.

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