Coriolanus at The Shakespeare Theatre

I'll admit I knew very little about this play going into it.  The basics, I knew: a tragedy, a Roman play, written by Shakespeare.  Not terribly intimate details, to be sure.  However, I found it one of the easier tragedies to follow, as it didn't have all of the espionage and deceit of which some others are so full.  A good deal of the credit should go to the very solid cast, led by the incredible Patrick Page as Caius Martius (later Caius Martius Coriolanus).  What I wasn't expecting was how much of this play really is funny.  Page plays the condescending soldier perfectly.  He wants nothing to do with the common people and isn't afraid to say so.

The Shakespeare Theatre really went all out with this cast.  At around 30 members, the audience gets some really good crowd scenes.  It's accentuated by the surprisingly small acting space that set designer Blythe R.D. Quinian allowed.  Many parts of the set moved up and down, but nothing out, so when everyone was on stage, yelling for corn, we felt the tension and the possibility of this going to a really dark place.  I really enjoyed the music they used for the show.  A lot of it was straight percussion, done by the actors themselves.  It went a long way in immersing us in the military-soaked society we were watching.  Possibly the only thing I didn't like about the design of the show was part of the lighting.  Whenever Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus, tribunes of the people, were either talking about or plotting against Coriolanus, the lights went white, telling everyone that it was an aside.  I don't like when designers don't trust their audience; people going to these plays are familiar with Shakespeare and the tropes he employs.  We don't need it spelled out for us.  Perhaps there was a reason for it.  For me, it felt too stagey.

What I found most interesting in this play was the focus on the mob mentality.  From the very first scene, we watched as the plebians were swayed one way and another by each other, by Coriolanus, by the tribunes, by Menenius Agrippa, by Aufidius.  All it took was one or two well-placed ideas, and they spread like wildfire through the rest of the crowd.  For all the power that each man held, it was easily taken away by the will of the crowd.  It's even fatal, evidenced by Aufidius telling his soldiers to kill Coriolanus at the end of the play.

Even though I wasn't familiar with the play, I was not only able to follow the storyline easily, but I could also think about other themes running through the show, and I very highly commend not just the playwright, but also the actors and designers for their work.  4 stars.

directed by David Muse
The Shakespeare Theatre Company
running through June 2, 2013


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