CoriolanusAshland, Oregon
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

It’s depressing.  This centuries’ old play about events a millennium earlier than that still speaks too accurately about the crowd/personality/political dynamics of the campaigns featured today on CNN and Fox.

There is no one-for-one tracking between Shakespeare’s characters and McCain, Romney, and the rest.  But, at times, when the self-righteousness or their temporizing morality is front and center, being refined for us future generations, I heard John and Mitt.

The self-centered, self-serving fickleness of public opinion is there, too.  Is there nothing new or nothing that we have learned?

It is the superb production that makes this dusty old story so powerful. 

Danforth Comins as Caius Martius blazes with energy, anger, self-righteousness, and heroism.  Comins (pictured on the left on the balcony) has beefed up for this role, and he looks the physical hero.  Butch, brash, patriotic, and studly. His focused but uncontrollable rage owns the intimate stage.

And, the stage is set just so perfectly.  Housed in the small New Theater in a theater-in-the-round configuration, Coriolanus is quick, sharp, and dangerous.  Scenes change with appropriate war-like cracks and flashes.  Crash-bang. No waiting. It’s war. It’s busy times.

The sparseness, the placing of characters among the audience, the striped-down stylized fox holes, cellphones and PDAs, and modern drag are not conceits. They work.

Getting me to accept Shakespeare set in any period except the time of the story or the time of Shakespeare is a high hurdle which Coriolanus easily cleared. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit one of my favorite moments.  Amidst a lot of street hubbub about what is to happen next, one character fumbles and unobtrusively gazes into his cellphone. He looks up, and starts off, “The auguries say…”  The cellphone as a mystical source of information: wonderful!

Who’s also extraordinary:

Richard Elmore as Menenius dithers, shades, pleads, and politics with clarity and emotion. 

Bill Geisslinger’s ramrod general Cominius is a fitting vessel for the character that Geisslinger brings to each role he’s given.  This one-dimensional part requires — and gets — all of Geisslinger’s strong-father persona.

How have I missed noticing Rex Young (who plays Brutus, a tribune) for so many years?  I think he’s been buried in comedic roles. I don’t know, but his calculating yet fresh-faced sincerity is an excellent match for this leader of the common people.

Demetra Pittman is Sicinius, the other tribune who opposes Coriolanus. A warm appearing but rock-hard and calculating instigator of trouble, she brings a modern bitchy feminism which is especially fitting because of how the play is staged. I have seen this Sicinus in action:  a woman who plays off the stereotypes of warm female while engaging in ruthless political acts.

Robynn Rodriguez is Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother and downfall.  Ice Princess Queen extraordinaire, Rodriquez doesn’t waste a twitch.  Even as she was delivering a heartbreaking appeal to her son, I wanted to slap her silly as payment for her still manifestly self-protecting calculating behavior.  The crispness of Rodriguez’s amorality revealed the true evilness written into the script.

The strength of the cast is so overwhelming that the flawless performances of U. Jonathan Toppo (First Citizen/ensemble), Michael Elich (Aufidius), and Christopher Michael Rivera (Adrian) are left to this 14th paragraph.  They were truly excellent, though!

Like Ashland’s production of King John, Ashland’s production of Coriolanus left me wondering why it is so infrequently produced.

Like Wit, Distracted, and Sylvia, I left the theater unable to talk coherently for minutes. My mind was a jumble of images that needed release… or at least settling.

Like listening to CNN election coverage, Coriolanus left me shaking my head, depressed.

Ozdachs Rating: Rating 5 out of 5 

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6 Responses to Coriolanus

  1. What is this world coming to? We agree on several of the plays this season!

    I’m glad that you liked Coriolanus. Mark & I really enjoyed it when we saw it as well.

    (BTW, you forgot to tag this entry)

  2. fyellin says:

    I watched the crowd leaving Coriolanus (which I haven’t seen yet.) The entire crowd seemed to be in a daze, completely overwhelmed by what they had seen.

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