Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Epic Poems Part II: The Rape of Lucrece

Theatre Q&A


Tarquin and Lucretia, by Titian (upper portion)

In three remaining performances this weekend, The Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) will present William Shakespeare’s poem, The Rape of Lucrece, adapted as a 1940s radio play as part of the company’s 2019 “season of villains.”

The poem was written in 1594, a year after Shakespeare published another narrative poem– Venus and Adonis– which LBSC also adapted and performed as a radio play earlier this month in honor of the bard’s birthday.

In a tight rhyme scheme, this poem tells of the rape of Lucrece, a Roman noblewoman, by Tarquin, a soldier and the son of the king.

The aftermath of that rape ultimately led to Rome transforming from a kingdom to a republic in 509 B.C.

The approximately one-hour performance involves four players broadcasting from the KBRD radio studio– including talented LBSC veteran Sarah Hoeven– plus sound effects.

In the following interview with the Signal Tribune, director Brando Cutts– who also adapted the poem into the radio-play format– shares his insights about its timeliness and relevance.

Signal Tribune: What prompted you to do this adaptation?
Brando Cutts: I came up with doing this adaptation when the #MeToo was in full swing.

ST: Was it difficult to adapt a long-form poem into a play?
BC: It was difficult to adapt until it wasn’t. I kept looking it over from multiple angles without really making an attempt until I had a figurative lightning bolt to my brain and I realized what I specifically wanted the play to sound like.
From there, it has felt more like conducting a symphony.

ST: What is the story’s relevance to today?
BC: Now we are living in a rare window where sexual trauma is on the table for discussion instead of being covered up, and men in positions of power are exposed as beasts.
This poem reflects that perfectly since Tarquin is a prince who abuses his position to gain and abuse Lucrece’s trust. 

ST: We sometimes see rape depicted in popular culture, such as in Game of Thrones. Why do you think that is?
BC: I think rape has been getting special attention in popular culture because, for so long, it got such little attention. This play teaches us what we see in Game of Thrones has roots in the way women have been treated and commoditized throughout history.

ST: How did the cast react to the material?
BC: The cast all felt the weight of it right off the bat. But the language is so beautiful and fits together so snugly that there was an eagerness to hit just the right tone to give the show meaning rather than just being gruesome.

ST: What will appeal to listeners?
BC: I hope listeners will tune in looking for a terror that is very real and around us in the same way we watch crime documentaries, just told through beautiful poetry.

ST: What do you hope audiences will come away with after experiencing LBSC’s production?
BC: In the play, Tarquin makes the decision to rape Lucrece after weighing the options and knowing the consequences.
I want the audience to realize that some villains cannot be redeemed, justified or empathized with because they chose villainy.

The Rape of Lucrece continues at the Helen Borgers Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., through this weekend, with shows Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $12.50. For tickets and information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org. LBSC advises parental discretion.