‘Coriolanus’ – Theater Review

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Review by Elyse Trevers

The patrician Caius Martius is a fierce fighter and the main character of Shakespeare’s play, “Coriolanus,” the second offering this summer of the Free Shakespeare in the Park. Fighting bravely, suffering many wounds and taking many enemy lives, he receives the appellation Coriolanus.

The name is derived from his victory – think of it like winning the MVP award. Despite his arrogance, pride and open disdain for the common people, he allows his mother (portrayed by the wonderful Kate Burton) and the patricians to talk him into running for political office as consul. This is where the tragedy written between 1605 and 1608 begins to feel modern. Although the play isn’t one of Shakespeare’s more popular works, its themes make it a natural choice for times of political turmoil.

Coriolanus needs to wage a campaign to run for office. The ordinary citizens already hate him and are angry that he won’t show them his wounds. They want to hear about his fighting in the war.

However, it’s not modesty that prevents him for sharing his experiences; it’s his obvious disdain for them. Why should he pander to them? Consider the recent Democratic debates and how would-be presidential candidates must win over voters.

The citizens are easily swayed and agree to give him their ‘voice.’ Then the consuls of the people incite the masses against him and the people begin to chant “It shall be so.” (Think of crowds at rallies chanting “lock her up.”) Coriolanus is branded a traitor and banished from the Rome that his bravery has saved. Seeking revenge, he joins forces with his former enemy, the commander of the Volscian army, Tullus Aufidius.

The play is very talky, except for a couple of fight scenes which provide action. As Coriolanus, Jonathan Cake becomes energized at the mere mention of warfare. He evinces joy at the suggestion of fighting. Yet he transforms into an obedient child when dealing with his mother, who he refers to as “my sometimes general.” In fact, the character seems more drawn to his mother than to his pregnant wife and his son. Cake works hard and when he’s angered, he becomes a force to be reckoned with.

As usual, Burton plays a strong forceful woman. Although her dialogue might be Elizabethan, her meaning is always clear. Jonathan Hadary as the people’s consul and Teague F. Bougere as Menenius Agrippa, the father-figure give capable steady performances. The most fascinating character interpretation is given by Tullus Aufidius (Louis Cancelmi) Coriolanus’ enemy. As directed by Daniel Sullivan, the two hate one another as enemies but once on the same side, their relationship becomes almost sexual. Cancelmi stands so close to Cake when speaking that he looks like he’s going to kiss him.

Often with theater in the park, the weather can play a factor. What began as a muggy evening changed somewhat imperceptibly. When Coriolanus became irate at being banished and turned on the people “banishing” them instead, the wind began to pick up. As the soldier led forces on his home in Rome, lightning flashed in the distance. By the tragic ending, the lightning was almost overhead. Once again, nature had augmented art, and 17th century literature resonated as timely.

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