When Richard Marlatt first appeared with Nebraska Shakespeare, he was not long out of Central Michigan University. He was cast as Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew,” opposite the late Pam Carter as Katerina.
It was Nebraska Shakespeare's first season, the summer of 1987. Marlatt, a native of the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Mich., heard about the new festival when he was acting for the Omaha Community Playhouse's touring arm, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, the previous season.
“I was just remarking on how much bigger these trees are,” Marlatt said last week amid a rehearsal in Elmwood Park. “Back then we could actually see the road from down here. It seems so much more secluded now.”
But the stage is still where it was 26 years ago, and Marlatt again opens tonight in a leading role for Nebraska Shakespeare, as Titus in “Titus Andronicus,” a bloody tragedy of revenge.
Asked how the festival has changed since 1987, Marlatt said housing for the actors, at Creighton University, is better. So is the pay. And there are more professional veterans in the company now than when it began, raising the bar on performance levels. Set, lighting and sound are all better now, he said.
What hasn't changed is the challenge of presenting Shakespeare in an outdoor setting in a way that connects with a large audience, he said.
The dark subject matter makes the role of Titus Andronicus a particularly tall order, he said. The play is so bloody, parental discretion is advised in deciding whether to bring young children.
“I'm trying not to let the emotionality of the story get to me too much,” he said. “Titus is bombastic on one end of the story, tearful and depressive on the other. It's quite a ride to take every day.”
The character's emotions sometimes flip-flop very quickly, Marlatt said — from anger one moment to concern for his family the next, or from battlefield rage to protecting his daughter and upholding the family name.
“It's a whirlwind of passions,” he said of “Titus Andronicus.”
The urge to take revenge, Marlatt said, is part of who we are as humans. And the potential for violence is always there in modern society.
“But you hope the reaction is more measured today than it was in Roman times, when they can't seem to temper their responses.”
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