“Coriolanus” is strikingly, perhaps even too obviously, relevant to the current “Occupy” movements. Shakespeare's play is set in a Rome that is being torn apart by the protests of the Plebians, the 99 percent, against the wealthy ruling class. They have been denied even basic sustenance because, as one of the Senators says, they have not served their military obligation. Caius Martius is a great war hero. After a particularly noble battle he is given the honorary name Coriolanus and persuaded, much to his hesitation, to go into politics. That is a far more treacherous and elusive area of combat than simple warfare. He is ultimately banished from Rome and sent out into the wilderness where he reassembles troops, along with the General Tullus Aufidius, to retake the City. Although none of the noble Romans can dissuade him from his new crusade, his wife, mother, and child ultimately turn him back, only for him to be finally betrayed by his old comrade Aufidius and killed by his loyalists.
David Quicksall keeps the action vivid in this production and the actors speak the language clearly and with complete understanding. David Drummond enters the stage as Coriolanus in full battle-armor with dramatic backlighting that makes him look like a World Wrestling champion and proceeds to slay half a dozen warriors in an extended, well-choreographed and violent sword fight. His first words are equally emphatic, aggressive and testosterone driven. The biggest problem I had with the first act of this production (at about an hour and forty minutes) was that Coriolanus began at such physical and vocal volume, even when he was denying any celebration of his valor, that the character really had nowhere to go dramatically. All of the characters in the first act seemed to be shouting or decrying or challenging at the top of their voices all the time. A shout rarely contains much interesting subtext. Coriolanus defined himself in the first moments of the production and the lack of variety or modulation through the rest of the act made it more tedious than exciting. In the same way, the Senators who are elected as the “people's sentinels” Junius Brutus (Gerald B. Browning) and Sicinius Velutus (David S. Klein) brought the same aggressive superficiality in their intrigue and plotting. Really the only modulation to that tone was from Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia, played with a canny blend of strength and integrity by Therese Diekhans. His wife, Virgilia (Shanelle Leonard) was simply not distinct or compelling enough to give the character significance. I did think the young son, Martius, was well-played by Jack Taylor, showing us all that this boy was receiving from his father and making it clear that he would have his own life of courage and distinction ahead of him.
In the second act, with Coriolanus banned from Rome and reduced to the anonymity of poverty and political disenfranchisement, everything about the production got much better. Drummond was able to test his character in ways that didn't involve swords and battle cries, and to pursue the deeper meanings of friendship, family and loyalty. In his reunion with Tullus Aufidius, General of the Voisces, we saw two warriors who had earned each other's respect but were still subject to higher commands. Mike Dooly made a nice match between his Aufidius and Coriolanus. His character was equally tough and brave, and equally capable of being misled. The scene where Volumnia persuades Coriolanus not to sack Rome was strong and moving. The action of the Second Act, with all the voices lowered most of the time, seemed twice as fast as Act One. We very quickly arrived at Coriolanus' final betrayal, and his death in a battle which paralleled the one that opened the play, except with him being the one outnumbered and doomed rather than his opponents.
The production is handsomely staged and, as I said, clearly defined in its action. It is also, for it's first two-thirds, rather boring. The fight choreography by Gordon Carpenter was excellent. Coriolanus was certainly convincing as a man's man, a blunt and assertive character who would always prefer to engage blade to blade, rather than mind to mind. “Coriolanus” was one of those arguments where you want to say, “If you'll just lower your voice I could hear you more clearly.”
PICTURED ABOVE: Mike Dooly as Tullus Aufidius and David Drummond as Caius Martius Coriolanus
PHOTO BY: John Ulman