restricted access Coriolanus (review)
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CoriolanusPresented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall, Washington, D.C. 2903– 1704, 2013. Directed by David Muse. Set by Blythe R.D. Quinlan. Costumes by Murell Horton. Lighting by Mark McCullough. Music and Sound by Mark Bennett. Fights by Rick Sordelet. With Lise Bruneau (Valeria), Diane D’Aquila (Volumnia), Nick Dillenburg (Titus), Philip Goodwin (Brutus), Reginald Andre Jackson (Aufidius), Aaryn Kopp (Virgilia), Patrick Page (Caius Martius, later Coriolanus), Steve Pickering (Cominius), Robert Sicular (Menenius), Derrick Lee Weeden (Sicinius), and Hunter Zane (Young Martius).

Before the house lights dimmed, the citizens of Rome gradually gathered on a marble, monumental set, neither clearly classical nor contemporary. A cleaner emerged, running a broom over the paneled floor. Then another joined her, then men and women placing chairs, lighting fires, dressed in drab grays and brown, nondescript working clothes that rejected attempts to date them precisely.

After a sudden blackout, the citizens had formed a semi-circle, while above them the senators and Caius Martius and his family sat and stood, impassively. Drums rolled, then silence. One by one, the citizens started to fidget, to fret. One kicked a chair and cried, “Corn!” A second repeated the word, and soon it sped from mouth to mouth, accompanied by clanging pipes, until it culminated in that same First Citizen shouting “…at our own price!” Martius, whose annoyance had visibly built with the clamor below, stalked off, his family and the senators close behind.

A heated debate began between the citizens, only partially defused when Menenius interrupted. Robert Sicular delivered a charming rendition of the story of the revolting body—earning laughs with the silly [End Page 505]voice of the belly, and winking good-naturedly at a young woman on “the heart”—but the people were too hungry and too angry to keep completely in check. Most sided with the First Citizen—an enraged young man—who obviously hated the elites, especially Martius. Some sympathized with the Second Citizen—an older, calmer fellow—who defended Martius out of gratitude for his protection. In their arguments, I couldn’t help but recognize echoes of recent rhetoric from the Occupy movement about the 1% and the 99%, and from US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney about the 47% he claimed existed on welfare. However, after this initial scene, David Muse did not direct this production as a modern political statement so much as a personal portrait of an individual whose extremity couldn’t be expressed in percentages, and who inhabited an ambiguously designed world accented by periods past, present, and perhaps even future.

Not quite the near-psychopath Ralph Fiennes portrayed in his 2012 film, Patrick Page nevertheless pushed all the appropriate social boundaries. Unreservedly delighted by battle, he shouted with pleasure at the prospect of war when he heard of the Volscian uprising. He protested vehemently against all praise—though he liked his new name, mouthing “Coriolanus” silently, and nodding in approval. Forced to stand for consul, he stumbled verbally and physically, tripping over his words and his white robe, wiping his hand disdainfully after shaking hands with each citizen, his request for “your voices” sounding like a mocking market-cry. Called a traitor, he ripped off his red robe and hurled it, swirling and furling, at the circling citizens, his face turning almost as scarlet as the fabric as he bellowed with rage.

Furious, yes…but frightening? Maybe not quite. In his second entrance, Martius stormed on, slamming his hand on a drum to seize the citizens’ attention, and striding center stage, where he stamped and waved his riding crop—but it came across slightly more as blustery bark than bite. Though he was certainly the model of a modern major general, I was less convinced that Page was really a warrior. His movements were a tad stiff, not supple, and he was quite careful when his soldiers lifted him above their heads like a totem. Then again, perhaps his caution was well-earned. He did bear scars from nearly thirty wounds, as he vividly demonstrated when he bared his body—not for the citizens, but for his nemesis Aufidius.

Despite that bare-chested display...


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