One of the joys of theatre is seeing a classic play presented in a surprising manner that gives new life to the story. Brave Spirits Theatre’s lively production of Coriolanus once again illustrates the adaptability and greatness of Shakespearean tragedy.
The saying “Pride goeth before a fall” could be a good summary of the life of Coriolanus. Caius Martius (John Stange) leads the Roman army to a great victory over the Volscians led by Aufidius (Robert Pike) at the city of Corioli. As a result, he is given the honorary name of Coriolanus.
Upon his return, the customary path would lead to his election as one of two consults leading Rome. Yet the haughty Coriolanus refuses to show proper respect to the lower plebian class due to his pride and his contempt for the process. The tribunes representing the lower classes then whip up a mob with charges against Coriolanus that lead to his banishment from the city. He then returns to Aufidius and offers to help lead the Volscian army against Rome. Rome’s only hope is that friends and family, including his loving wife Virgilia (Renea S. Brown) and his mother Volumnia (Jessica Lefkow), can persuade Coriolanus to abandon this campaign.
Director Charlene V. Smith gives Coriolanus a powerful impact using immersive theatre techniques. Without spoiling all the surprises, the ensemble swirls around the audience with music and motion that give new energy to a play that can be static, even stagnant, in less skillful hands.
The thrilling and dynamic nature of this production is greatly assisted by outstanding fight scenes (Casey Kaleba serves as Fight Director, actor Ian Blackwell Rogers assists as Fight Captain). The lengthy initial fight between Coriolanus and Aufidius is as intense and realistic as any hand-to-hand combat this reviewer has ever witnessed on stage. The action is aided by suitably harsh lighting design by Peter Caress and well-adapted music designed by Anderson Wells.
As the director points out in program notes, Coriolanus can be molded to suit different political attitudes. While this production appears to take a straightforward approach, the performances dictate the emphasis of the message.
closes February 25, 2018
Details and tickets
John Stange ably performs the weighty leading role. While he has noble bearing and some anger, he does not give Coriolanus the traditional degree of conceited arrogance that can make the character unlikeable. Indeed, when he returns to Aufidius he appears more broken than vengeful.
As a result, it is hard to see Coriolanus as a real threat to the Roman Republic. Therefore, the machinations of the tribunes Sicinius and Brutus (Anderson Wells and Diane Curley) make it seem like they are seeking to bring Coriolanus down merely because they can, an example of what we now call the politics of personal destruction.
The more sympathetic portrayal of Coriolanus makes his flaws a little less compelling, but also makes the outcome more predictable and more tragic at the same time. Strange adeptly threads the needle in a thoughtful approach to the role.
The play is full of compelling performances. Jessica Lefkow has potent impact as the proud Roman mother who is the obvious source of Coriolanus’ many personality traits. Ian Blackwell Rogers has a presence and statesman-like gravitas that many politicians would envy. Robert Pike gives a wonderfully psychopathic edge to Aufidius, challenging the audience to take their eyes off him.
Yet the star of this Coriolanus is the production itself. Even though the minimal costumes and the black box presentation can challenge audiences unfamiliar with the story, the enthusiastic cast and the driving action give new life to a classic story.
This reviewer has seen a half-dozen productions of this Coriolanus, but the Brave Spirits Theatre rendition is the most enthralling of the bunch. Even if you have seen the play before, you haven’t seen Coriolanus in its full, dark glory unless you see this production.
Note: Coriolanus plays in rep with Brave Spirits’ The Trojan Women Project
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare. Director: Charlene V. Smith. Assistant Director: Jordan Friend. Featuring Tori Boutin, Renea S. Brown, Diane Curley, James Allen Kerr, Henry Kramer, Jessica Lefkow, Robert Pike, Ian Blackwell Rogers, Thomas Shuman, John Stange, and Anderson Wells. Stage Manager: Cheyanne Christopher, Sarah Mango. Dramaturg: Laura Esti Miller. Fight Director: Casey Kaleba. Costume Designer: Kristina Martin. Set and Props Designer: Brian Gillick. Lighting Designer: Peter Caress. Makeup Designer: Briana Manente. Music Director: Anderson Wells. Fight Director: Ian Blackwell Rogers. Graphic Designer: Jessica Aimone. Publicity Photography: Justin Schneider. Production Photography: Claire Kimball. Produced by Brave Spirits Theatre. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.