April 1, 2010 | by David J. Hoffman
A fascination with abomination

Tongues cut out, hands chopped off, a sliced off phallus held as if in rigor mortis, do we have your attention now?

And the literal disembowelment of one character, Lavinia, after being raped by the invading Goth barbarian — all this in grisly, stomach-churning homage to Shakespeare’s early revenge-tragedy “Titus Andronicus.”

In other words, welcome to “Mondo Andronicus,” from the gore-fest world of “Grand-Guignol,” the French Theatre of Horror, and the peculiarly morbid yet theatrically alive spawn of the Molotov Theatre Group, a troupe of horror-theatre aficionados based in D.C. and founded in 2007 to pay tribute to this drama for those with a taste for what the poet Coleridge called “the fascination of the abomination.”

“Mondo,” for short, Molotov’s latest cocktail of horror and body-part splatter, retells the original Shakespeare tale of murder and revenge set in ancient Rome. It has only two more nights to run — 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (April 2 and 3) at the intimate backroom stage at the 1409 Playbill Cafe on 14th St., N.W. It’s so intimate that if you sit too close to the stage, you may fear for your own limbs.

Without a doubt if your idea of fun is a snuff film or the wretched excess of the “Hostel” film series of S&M torture scenes of the young and the sexually desirable, then this one’s for you.

But it may also be for you if you simply can savor the comedy-gore subtleties of blood and guts, which after all merely brings to the actual stage the nuanced viscera of every single act of torment and mutilation that Shakespeare relegated to the off-stage back story. For the Bard, the main event was how the Roman general, the eponymous Titus Andronicus, simply endures pain and suffering such that Job would have seen his own torments as merely a day at the beach.

“Notoriously Shakespeare fills his action with bizarre, numbing atrocities … and paints a malignant, nightmarish ‘wilderness of tigers,’ a Rome featuring sizzling entrails, rape, dismemberment, slit throats, cooked heads in a pie, a cannibal feast,” wrote the English biographer of Shakespeare, Park Honan, who was fascinated by the playwright’s Tudor view of the bestiality of ancient Rome.

So how different are we today? That’s the question “Mondo” forces us to confront, in Obama-era America. Consider Afghanistan and the sanitized havoc of innocent women and children killed by U.S. drone-fired missiles.

“Our culture is so immersed in violence,” says D.C. newcomer and gay actor and Molotov troupe member Cyle Durkee, who plays cowardly Saturninus and savage Demetrius. “We’ve become desensitized to it.”

“Grand-Guignol is so intense, it breaks the fourth wall,” adds Durkee. “This is not a comfortable thing — you confront the audience with the violence and force them to think about the horrible things happening in the world. It re-sensitizes people to violence.”

But says Molotov co-founder Alex Zavistovich, “goremeister” to the troupe, who plays Titus: “You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in, and we provide the dark; it’s really not a whole lot more than that.”

See “Mondo” and decide for yourself: What does the dark have to teach us about the light?

‘Mondo Andronicus’
Through April 3 at 8 p.m.
Tickets at the door
The Theatre at 1409 Playbill Cafe
1409 14th St., N.W.

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