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When War Gets Real

From Puck to panic; from sleeping beauties to buckets of blood.

Christopher Johnson, associate director of Live Theatre Workshop's family series, "All Together Theatre," was all set to make his directorial debut with Midsummer Night's Dream when he found himself with the script for Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus in his hands and the thought "we have to do this, right now" in his head.

"My artistic director, Jeremy Thompson, and I had been trying to come up with something we could do around the election time," says Johnson. "We were just really riled up about the war (in Iraq) and trying to find some way to make a statement about peace. I had the script for Titus; we ended up adapting it, came up with a concept, and decided we had to do it now, and had to do it right."

Midsummer Night's Dream--already in rehearsals--was put on hold until December. Everyone, says Johnson, turned their attention to Titus and "got behind it 100 percent.

"It (Titus) is just so relevant," Johnson continues. "It's something we can all stand firmly behind, because we're trying to use peace as a tool to educate people about war, to hold up a mirror to our society and, more importantly, to our community--the people we can physically reach and show the insanity and horrors of war. So much of our concept of war is just news, media, politics right now, but there's so much more to this war. So many people are dying, there's this whole animalistic side of it--it's so much more than debates, Republicans, Democrats, whatever. That's not what war is about."

Those of you who've seen the phenomenal movie-version of the story (Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange) have some idea of what's coming when Johnson says, "Oh yes, there's plenty of meatloaf in this show," but for those not familiar with the story, Johnson describes it thus:

"It's set in Rome, and at a time when Rome was incredibly powerful; it's very easy to draw a comparison to America, because we're basically the new Roman Empire. There's so much political scandal in this show, and violence, and bad things happening in other countries ... so much violence wrapped up in process and routine and tradition and these kinds of things. The story is really about this revered general (Titus) who wins a 10-year-long war against the Goths, and brings back the Goth queen and her children to give as a gift to the new emperor. The emperor chooses Titus' daughter to be his wife, but she's already married and refuses. So he chooses the Goth queen that Titus brought; within minutes of her being brought in on her knees, after having her country ruined and one of her sons sacrificed--now she's Titus's queen. It's a story of ultimate revenge.

"We want the audience to have relief at the end of this show," Johnson adds, "because it is totally relentless. I've been so blessed with this cast; it's an incredible cast, everyone put in 100 percent and went double-time on everything because we didn't have much time, but there are some scenes that are so intense that actors who aren't on stage are having to leave; they can't watch the rehearsals." (In case there's some totally daft person out there still thinking this would be a good show to bring the kids to--don't.)

"We're doing a lot of cool stuff to make it our own," says Johnson, "a lot of mixed-media stuff with televisions, film, music--juxtaposing images of extreme violence with images of peace. There's so much blood in this show that for blood, we're using rose petals that are being donated by Roses and More. By the end of the show, the stage is just covered in bodies and rose petals.

"We're also wall-papering the theatre with newspaper, doing everything we can to make it ours. It's too ambitious for its own good, is what it is," Johnson laughed, before adding seriously, "It's the most important thing I've ever done in my life."

Because Johnson and LTW (in conjunction with the Tucson Peace Center) believe in the project so whole-heartedly and want as many people to see the play as possible, the performances--scheduled for 10 p.m. Oct. 21-24, Oct. 28-30 and Nov. 1--are free.

"That's the whole point," says Johnson. "We want everyone who can to see this show, because most people are so unaware of the horrors of war. Doing research for this show, I learn more and more every day about how much is going on, the number of senseless deaths. This has really been a journey for me and other people involved, and we're compacting this whole journey into one night for people to come and see."

Call 327-4242 for reservations.

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