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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: February ::
DC Coriolanus
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0257  Monday, 7 February 2000.

From:           Jimmy Jung <
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Date:           Friday, 04 Feb 2000 16:58:13 -0500
Subject:        DC Coriolanus

Coriolanus is one of Shakspeare's more rarely staged plays, but
Washington's Shakespeare Theater has taken it on again.  Back in 1991,
it was a lose sort of ambling affair, with the disheveled look of a
Marine Corp encampment; the year two thousand production has a more
stylized look seeming to be set in perhaps the early forties.
Coriolanus and the Roman army are styled after the Third Reich, the
Roman senate in top hats and tails, while the Volscians soldiers seem
more contemporary, tending towards camouflage.

The play opens with an abundance of grain pouring from the ceiling into
a hole in the floor and then being sealed beneath a grating by Roman
imperial soldiers and provides a very real sense of the Roman people's
concerns with hunger; but this initial apprehension about being able to
eat, is quickly turned into a political opportunity by the tribunes,
who, in a choice that confused me, are portrayed as some form of
communist. They appear early in the production, sporting red arm bands
emblazoned with the hammer and sickle.  And as the influence of the
tribunes over the populace grows, so does the number of arms bands.  My
history is a little weak, perhaps someone could tell me if this
combination of images makes sense, but for me, it was somewhat
distracting.

The stage design was highlighted with rich rosewood furnishings and art
deco touches  that further invoked  a sense of the forties, but the
overwhelming character of the set is derived from two large aluminum
bleachers (as in high school gym bleachers) that retract to provide
space for the foreground action, or to create a wall for the storming of
Corioli. Entrances in and out of the city involve marching over the
bleachers.  Shiny metal and a bright red background give the whole thing
and angry feel that mirrors the mood of the title character.

Andrew Long makes an arrogant and haughty Coriolanus, but on those
occasions, when he's required to show his sensitive side it seems to
come out of the blue.  The sudden tenderness he shows his wife at their
reunions and his emotional concessions to his mother are almost jarring
, and unjustified in light of the one sided character we have been
exposed to.  I've seen Mr. Long do some very nuanced characters, so may
be it's the playwright's fault.  There was some argument in our party
about Sheila Allen's performance as Volumnia.  My wife found her
performance full of the passionate strength that commands her warrior
son.  I thought she was a little too Edith Bunker.  Ted van Griethuysen
plays Menenius as something of a dandy and makes the belly speech quite
amusing.  Griethuysen, Long and Keith Cobb as Tullus of the Volscians,
are the highlights of the cast and really the highlights of a somewhat
flat production.  Hardy Cook describes Cobb as playing Tullus as a sex
symbol, and while I entirely enjoyed his portrayal of the character, the
sex symbol part is accomplished mostly by taking off his shirt. My wife
says he looks like superman.

One of the most amazing scenes is the "reconciliation" between
Coriolanus and Tullus.  There is a moment where they kneel before each
other wearing scar each has given the other.  And in that moment one is
left with the sense that these warriors can only be understood, and to
some extent, even loved by another warrior.  There is a silent
recognition on kinship between them, broken as the wrestle, like teenage
brothers across the stage.  For me, this was the only chance we got to
see the complexity of the title character.
Jimmy

PS: I did note Menenius' speech on the belly during the opening and
Volumnia's horror at seeing her son rip the bowels out of Rome, but a
digestive track progression did not strike me during the viewing.  I've
been digging through the text to look for more gutsy metaphors.  (Bran
images?)
 

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