Acting with conviction
(Page 4 of 6)
Aaron leaves as the young couple appears; Tamora's sons soon arrive. They stab Bassianus, then start to taunt Lavinia, who begs their mother for mercy. Tamora offers none, and her sons drag Lavinia to a hollow, offstage, where they rape her and cut off her hands and tongue.Skip to next paragraph
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Like many abused children, Sammie did not escape the cycle of physical, emotional, and sexual violence in his adult life. He went to prison twice for assault, and twice got out on good behavior. Then he married and helped found a wrestling gym.
"But still," he says, "I had all these problems." He began having affairs with many women - particularly one named Carol, who "was very abusive."
They broke up once, but five years later resumed the affair. Sammie was also sleeping with his supervisor, and Carol threatened to expose him. "And I'm like, 'I'm going to lose everything I got.' So in a fit of rage, I ended up strangling [Carol]."
Onstage, Saturninus finds his brother murdered, and condemns two of Titus's sons to death for the crime. Titus begs for mercy, but receiving none, begins to lose his mind. When Marcus brings the bloody Lavinia to him, Titus stops raving, and weeps.
Aaron, anxious for more mischief, tells Titus a lie: If he will chop off his hand, and entrust it to Aaron to deliver, the emperor will spare his sons. Titus doesn't hesitate, and Aaron cuts off the hand.
Hal curls up at the foot of a drill press, clutching his severed wrist. "Watch your hands and fingers," warns a safety poster taped overhead.
Later, Hal proudly shares a photo that's come in the mail: his daughter's high school graduation picture. He's not allowed to contact her - when she was a toddler he electrocuted her pregnant mother - but his parents send him pictures. In the photo, a young woman in a dress suit sits solemnly, looking twice her age. She has Hal's eyes. "This is my Lavinia," he says.
That afternoon, in his office, Warden Chandler confides that "record-wise, Curt's got a couple of the worst guys. It still amazes me. You would run, if you seen 'em in their day." Of all the inmates involved in Shakespeare when Chandler first arrived, he trusted Sammie least. "He was a scary guy in those days. It's different now. That light bulb went off for him."
Chandler has spent his career at five Kentucky prisons, and has mixed feelings about his plans to leave Luther Luckett next year to start up a sixth. It will be a $77 million facility in the heart of Appalachia. "Appalachia's new industry is prisons, for sure. We build 'em and we never close 'em." He pauses, studying an old-fashioned ball and chain slumped decoratively by his door. "I'll always have a job, I know that," he says.
Act IV: the right role
Onstage in rehearsal, Lavinia frantically pages through Ovid's "Metamorphoses" with the stumps of her wrists. Coming upon the story of the rape of Philomel, she gestures wildly to her father and uncle, to underscore the similarity between it and the crime committed against her. For many of the actors, too, performing Shakespeare has meant finding their lives paralleled in literature.
The first such moment for Sammie was when he played Proteus, who attempts a rape at the end of "Two Gentlemen of Verona." That role brought back details of Sammie's crime he'd never understood.
"With Carol," he explains, "it was a pattern: We would argue, then we'd have sex, and everything was better. But [just before I killed her] what really happened was: We argued, and we did not have sex. I raped her. Then I strangled her later. Proteus reminded me of all that. And playing the role helped me move past it somewhat."
Two years later, Sammie chose the title role in "Othello." In the final scene, Othello suffocates his wife. Sammie wanted the part, he explains, to make sure that when his character was tempted by violence, Sammie himself wouldn't be. "In prison, [it's like the alcoholic who says] 'I've been in for five years, and I haven't drank for five years.' It's easy, because you don't have access to it. Playing Othello and Proteus, that gave me access to it instantly. I wanted to challenge myself, to make sure how would I respond."