World-class talent joins La Grande Shakespeare Co.
LA GRANDE — As an actor who has played everything from a wise-cracking butler on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to the voice of Santa in an animated short, Joseph Marcell said his friends describe him as an ever-moving bumble bee.
“I sample things,” he said. “I try not to repeat myself. I’m seduced to lots of things.”
Despite his desire to try new roles, Marcell said he has long had his sights on one character: Titus Andronicus. His fascination with the character started in 1972, when he had a small role in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the tragedy.
“I played the character who brings in the (severed) heads,” Marcell said.
He has been drawn to the title character ever since, and thanks to the La Grande Shakespeare Company, that dream can finally be realized.
Marcell is joining the La Grande troupe for its summer production of “Titus Andronicus,” which will be presented at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 through Aug 12. The Riverside Park show is free, and audiences are encouraged to bring chairs, blankets and picnic baskets.
The Shakespeare company and its special guest will also travel to Bend for the city’s Shakespeare in the Park show Aug. 18 and 19.
After nearly five decades of acting and acquiring stage credits in “As You Like It,” “King Lear,” “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet” and numerous others, Marcell remains passionate about being part of the William Shakespeare experience.
He said part of his interest with Shakespeare is that the words can stand on their own.
“That’s why they’ve lasted so long,” he said, and that’s why The Globe Theatre in London focuses so much on the plays.
“It’s not about the editors, directors or even the actors,” he said. “It’s the plays themselves. (As audiences and as performers,) we’re beginning to appreciate that.”
Marcell, who is also on the board of The Globe, said he is especially captivated by characters like King Lear, Othello and Titus Andronicus.
“Tragic heroes force you to examine yourself,” he said. “The idea of revenge and control fascinates me.”
Thought to be William Shakespeare’s first tragedy, “Titus Andronicus” is very much a spectacle of poor choices.
“Titus has the choice to listen to the pleas of a crying woman or to adhere to an (archaic) tradition,” Artistic Director Grant Turner said during the cast’s first reading of the script. “We have this series of moments where, if anybody stood up and intervened, (if anyone made) the ‘right’ decision, the play would go off in a completely different direction. I want us to hold up those moments.”
Turner, who is directing the production as well as performing as Lucius, emphasized that this is not a comedy, despite elements that are so absurd they seem humorous.
“We don’t want to be so afraid of this play that we try to soften its blow (by camping it up,)” he said.
Turner did say, however, that the troupe would try to keep the show from being too graphic.
“I’m going to try to stay faithful to Shakespeare’s intention without being psychologically damaging to young children,” he said.
Turner believes so firmly that the whole family could enjoy the show, he’s enlisted his own 10-year-old daughter, Anne, to be part of the cast.
“If you’re really worried about it, you could certainly have a discussion with your family about what is reality and what is theatre,” he said. “It’s not real gore.”
A second guest
Aries Annitya will also be joining the La Grande troupe for its August show. The part was “right up his alley,” according to Turner.
“I just recently graduated from the Portland Actors Conservatory, where I had intensive Shakespeare training,” Annitya said.
Although he has been interested in acting most of his life, he really picked it up when he moved to Portland. This marks the first show that he has traveled a great distance to be a part of.
“It’s a bit intimidating to leave (home) to go work on something that you’ve been working toward your entire life,” he said.
Fortunately, he said those nerves have calmed now that he’s seen the town and met the rest of the cast.
Annitya’s character in the show, Aaron, is notably an outsider.
“He looks a bit different, and the cadence of his voice is different,” Turner said, adding that Aaron is not a Goth, he “just hangs with them.”
Annitya said he has been eager to “expand upon what it is to be a black man in a society of majority white people.”
He said he hopes to use his own experiences as a black man in a predominantly white community to “branch off of” for this story.
“I’ve already noticed that idea here in La Grande and also back in Portland. This town is mostly white people, and I don’t say that as a bad thing or a good thing,” Annitya said. “It’s just a thing.”
Annitya said he feels like an outsider walking around the streets of La Grande, and he believes there could be a remedy within “Titus Andronicus.”
“This show is not just for our entertainment,” he said. “It forces us to have some uncomfortable conversations, economically, politically and socially.”
Marcell wanted the audience to know what to expect of the August show.
“Shakespeare is not a modern writer,” he said. “The words talk about death and undertaking that are far removed from our lives, but I don’t need to murder someone to understand the emotions written in the words.”
Marcell said the answers to any actor’s questions are revealed in the text of the play, so he doesn’t have to strain to equate a personal tragedy with the horrors of the show.
“What (audiences) need to realize is this is not about understanding, it’s about perception,” he said.
Marcell also noted that unlike his performances on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” this show is not edited.
“We haven’t picked out the most beautiful close-ups for you to enjoy,” he said. “You have to accept that when Marcus sees Lavinia and goes into rage, it’s a stream of consciousness.”
Turner said he can’t believe the troupe is able to hold the show in La Grande for free.
“Here we have someone who has spent almost two years touring the world as King Lear in the premiere Shakespeare company in the universe, joining our show” Turner said. “To offer it for free is insane.”