Performed with Wallenstein as part of STC’s Hero/Traitor Repertory, Shakespeare’s less-performed Roman tragedy roars to life at the STC. Director David Muse sheaths the tragedy’s notoriously complex text in a muscle-bound character study, and Patrick Page gives a ferocious portrayal of the general-turned-invader as a fanatically uncompromising military man whose only flaw is a refusal to play at something he’s not.
Thankfully, this reading of the victorious general thrust by peace into politics attempts no interpretive back-bends equating Coriolanus with modern political figures.
Even in ancient Rome, Page’s pent warrior is a force more suited to legend than life. His agitation in the political city is obvious—he paces like a lion in a cage, snapping at rallying commoners more out of restlessness than any anti-popular malice; this hero’s sole concern is combat, and everything else bores or taxes him. In battle with the Volscian invaders, Page’s bass growl becomes a happy roar as he leaps and races into the fray.
While Coriolanus campaigns, Muse shows audiences the forces back in Rome which have made, and will unmake, this Martian demigod. Diane D’Aquila shines as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother and the drum-major for his incessant march toward conflict. We first see her, sword in hand, teaching her staid grandson (Hunter Zane) how to kill.
In this production, it’s the smoothly-scheming tribunes (Philip Goodwin and Derrick Lee Weeden) who resemble modern politicians, dreading aloud that Coriolanus might achieve a power they can’t grasp themselves. To prevent his rise, they plan to set the simple and unwitting people against him.
In this production, Coriolanus comes across as the noble victim of petty politics. He loses his temper, yes, but his aversion to the tribunes’ machinations seems natural. Helping this effect are the lights (designer Mark McCullough), which shine in heroic golds and reds on Coriolanus, but flip to a stark white whenever the tributes plot alone. I
After his triumph, Coriolanus is rewarded with a candidacy for Consulship and swept up in political machinations beyond his control. Tripping over his consular robe and forced to play avuncular political candidate to a populace whose quotidian concerns he would rather ignore, he looks sorely out of place, a charger outpaced by sidestepping trick ponies. This playacting at a part “he hast not done before” ultimately enrages him beyond restraint, sending him into a rant that results in his banishment.
Blythe Quinlan and Murrell Horton’s set and costume designs, respectively, present an ingenious meditation in color on Coriolanus’ loyalties—wrapped in Roman scarlet, the hero is nowhere near so happy as when smeared in luridly crimson blood on the battlefield. Ultimately, it’s the red of blood, not Rome, which he follows when, banished, he seeks out his most-hated (and thereby most-loved) enemy Aufidius (Reginald Andre Jackson).
The Volscians’ dark green sashes are an inconsequential ornament, equally smearable with the blood-red with which Coriolanus’ only loyalties lie. When Coriolanus marches with Aufidius’ army back against Rome, it’s only his wife, robed in pink, and his mother, in a dress the color of dried blood, who can appeal to him and stay his hand.
The performance takes other clever cues from the text—a soldier says of Coriolanus, “before him, he carries noise,” and Muse takes this more or less literally. Quinlan’s stark, gray bunker resounds with and shifts to reveal of an impressive array of percussion instruments, including a bellicose and towering taiko whose booms represent battle.
In an adeptly-forged moment after battle, Page demands that the drummers cease playing—any symbol of war is, to him, a dull substitute for the real thing. The question of hero or traitor, he leaves to more idle persons’ judgement.
By portraying Coriolanus as a proud hero with a perfect soldier’s pure passion for battle, and a disdain for all things else—even glory, power, and love, Muse and co. center this tragedy on Coriolanus’ self-admitted failure to “make true wars,” unencumbered by human concerns. In this respect, Muse and Page’s hero is tragically valorous, pecked to pieces by petty concerns while he prays to Mars, alone.
Closes June 2, 2013
Shakespeare Theatre Company at
Sidney Harman Hall
610 F Street NW
3 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $44 – $105
Coriolanus is performed in repertory with Wallenstein
Details and tickets Or call 202.547.1122
This heartwrenching reading of a play too often twisted to fit modern scenarios (think machine guns and modern conflict references, as in Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 film) allows the script’s true tragedy to emerge on its own terms around one of Shakespeare’s most difficult heroes. By letting Coriolanus hold a sword and wear a legionnaire’s breastplate, Muse shows that someone with a passion as clear and singular as Coriolanus’ doesn’t fit well in any era at all, as he will always be subject to manipulation by lesser talents.
Coriolanus’ tragedy is that he doesn’t adapt, and he’s less likable for it than many of Shakespeare’s heroes with more relatable problems than singular genius—the play is seldom performed or often used as a scaffold for war spectacle. Muse’s production refuses gimmicks or needless gore, examining the text with an aquiline eye and spotting the unique dramatic figure at its heart. Incarnating this keen analytical work, Page’s portrayal bring Coriolanus to life with stunning precision. This production is an illumination of an often ill-served classic, and not to be missed.
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare . Directed by David Muse . Featuring Patrick Page as Coriolanus, Lise Bruneau as Valeria, Diane D’Aquila as Volumnia, Nick Dillenburg as Lartius, Philip Goodwin as Brutus, Reginald Andre Jackson as Aufidius, Aaryn Kopp as Virgilia, Hunter Zane Pugh as Young Martius, Michael Santo as Senator, Robert Sicular as Menenius and Derrick Lee Weeden as Sicinius. The rest of the cast includes John Bambery, Jeffrey Baumgartner, Philip Dickerson, Avery Glymph, Chris Hietikko, Jacqui Jarrold, Joe Mallon, Glen Pannell, Max Reinhardsen, Brian Russell, Jjana Valentiner and Jaysen Wright.
Design team:Set Designer Blythe Quinlan, Costume Designer Murell Horton, Lighting Designer Mark McCullough,Voice and Text Coach Ellen O’Brien, Composer and Sound Designer: Mark Bennett. Artistic team: Production Stage Manager: Bret Torbeck, Assistant Stage Manager: Hannah R. O’Neil, Assistant Director: Jenny Lord, Directorial Assistant: Robert Lutfy. Daniel Neville-Rehbehn is the Resident Casting Director for STC and Binder Casting provided New York Casting. Rick Sordelet is the Fight Director and Drew Lichtenberg is the Literary Associate for this repertory. Produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company . Reviewed by Robert Duffley
STC Hero/Traitor Repertory Directors Michael Kahn and David Muse discuss Wallenstein and Coriolanus.
Neda Semnani . Roll Call
something wicked . TwoHoursTraffic
Kate Wingfield . MetroWeekly
Rebecca J. Ritzel . City Paper
Jeffrey Walker . BroadwayWorld
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Bob Ashby . ShowBizRadio
Barbara Mackay . Washington Examiner
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide
Jane Horwitz . Washingtonian
Peter Marks . Washington Post
Anne Tsang . DCMetroTheaterArts