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At a time when HBO's violent "Game of Thrones" commands conversations about contemporary television, it seems relevant to stage "Titus Andronicus," one of William Shakespeare's bloodiest plays.

Pinnacle Acting Company's production of "Titus" will feature its own twist, with a 17-member female cast of actors who are performing the show as inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for Women. Publicity photos show characters' mug shots, with titles announcing "the most lamentable Roman tragedy" in blood-red letters. The show opens at Westminster College's Black Box theater on Thursday and plays weekends through June 25.

It's a rare opportunity for theatergoers to see a Shakespearean tragedy that was popularly played in the Bard's time but is rarely produced by contemporary companies. (Local audiences might remember 1990 and 2002 productions at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

"Titus" is about the futility of revenge, with a brutally murderous storyline that includes incidents of rapes, severed limbs and cannibalism, says director L.L. West in promoting the show, which he terms as "fascinating and difficult, as well as funny."

"Elizabethans loved it, for the same reason we love 'Game of Thrones,' " West says. "They loved the blood and the revenge and the angst and the anger."

He adds: "I fell in love with the play, although it's not one you usually read, not your 'Hamlet' or your 'Othello.' I thought not only is it really an interesting play, and would be interesting for women actors, but it's funny, funny and dark. Going into this world has been really fascinating and a little scary."

Scary, that is, in that he's asked his female cast to delve into male characters that he describes as "misogynist pigs," and then portray them not as villains, but as troubled human beings.

Gender is just a hook for the production; theatergoers should be drawn to "watching really good actors saying these amazing words, discovering these really scary, dark characters," West says.

Another hook is the show's bloodiness, which West credits to the ingenuity of assistant director Emilio Casillas, who has experimented with different recipes and found creative ways to incorporate blood throughout the story without creating problems, such as staining costumes. Beyond theater lovers, crossover audiences for "Titus" might be roller derby and professional wrestling fans.

The production features April Fossen as Titus Andronicus, a Roman general; Tamara Howell as Saturninus, the emperor of Rome; Melanie Nelson as Tamora, Queen of Goths; and Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin as Aaron, a Moor who is Tamora's lover.

The director praises the entire cast, while highlighting Fossen's portrayal of Titus. "You're going to have to go a long way to find a Titus that's better," West says, while underscoring the willingness of Darby-Duffin to embody the character of the unrepentant, diabolical Aaron.

Betsy West, the director's wife, plays Marcus Andronicus, who tries to moderate his brother's behavior. The actor is most often seen locally in comedic roles, but she's dug into the script's text. "What she is doing with the language is just breathtaking, and I am saying that as her director, not as her husband," L.L. West says. "In the scenes with Betsy and April together, the language just crackles."

Pinnacle's show is part of a wave of gender-crossed productions, locally (such as recent all-female casts of "Hamlet" at Southern Utah University and the University of Utah) and nationally (such as the current run of Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park all-female cast of "The Taming of the Shrew").

West credits seeing London's Donmar Warehouse's brilliant 2014 production of "Henry IV," set in a women's prison, for the concept he borrowed for "Titus." "It doesn't change the story, it just gives it a context," he says.

The characters reference prison guards throughout the play, and the guards introduce the scenes and keep track of the story's body count.

West says he borrowed the name of the prison, Coffee Creek, from a minimum-security women's facility in Oregon. He called officials and received permission to use their alliterative name, but was disappointed they wouldn't lend an official guard badge for the production's use.

However, in a lovely exhibit of how real life anchors art, West says he was pleased to learn the institution supports weekly meetings of a drama group.

Bloody, bloody 'Titus A'

Pinnacle Acting Company presents an all-female production of Shakespeare's violent revenge play, set at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for Women.

When • June 9-11, 17-18, 24-25; 7:30 p.m. with additional 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, June 25

Where • Dumke Black Box Theatre, 1250 E. 1700 South, Westminster College campus, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $18 ($15 senior/student or matinee show; discount for groups of 10 or more), at or at the door