Last week, I went to go see Seattle Shakespeare Company's production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus. My good friend Tom Dewey was in the cast, and I was hesitant to even write about it because I find it hard to even pretend to be objective. But my MoM specifically requested a review, so here it is.
I really didn't know anything about Coriolanus going into the show, which is some ways is really interesting. I only knew what Tom had told me, pictures I'd seen on facebook, and some vague images from the new movie version of Coriolanus that came out recently. I have studied and seen a fair percentage of Shakespeare's plays, and its not often that I get to see a Shakespeare play I don't know. However, seeing a unfamiliar Shakespeare play turned into an unexpected boon. The language, the format, the words all seem familiar, but the story was totally fresh and new and undiscovered. While every time I see a Shakespeare play, I learn new things, this time I got to learn everything, and that was an unexpected pleasure.
Coriolanus is not often produced, and one of the best compliments I can give this production is that after watching it, I wondered why this play is not performed more often. While I know a lot of this is the hard work of this cast and crew, there is something compelling and timeless about the themes in the play that is very relateable. I also understand that this production cut the play down from a nearly four hour run time, to just around two and a half hours. I'm sure this goes a long way to making the play more enjoyable and less unwieldy.
Coriolanus is set in Rome in a time of transition. Food is scarce and the common people are rebelling against the senate. The protagonist, Caius Martius (later sur-named Coriolanus after a city he takes down in battle) is a soldier who joins the senate because of the ambition of his mother and his mentor. Coriolanus is an interesting and somewhat unusual focal character in a Shakespeare play. He is a soldier, not someone with a easy way with words. Coriolanus is no Hamlet, manipulating those around him through words. Instead he is a warrior. The excellent fight choreography and costuming present a Coriolanus most comfortable in his military uniform, with a sword in his hand. The actor playing Coriolanus, David Drummond, towered over most of the rest of the cast, and carried himself like a soldier throughout all of his scenes.
This production was set and costumed in a way that I perceived as a cross between ancient Rome, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. The common people were wearing ragged coats and huddled up against the cold, while the politicians wore well cut gray suits, accented by red fabric draped in a roman style. I thought this added a very thought provoking element, while still staying grounded in something resembling our reality.
The supporting characters and actors were all excellent. This play boasts one of the fiercest women in Shakespeare, Coriolanus's mother, Volumina. the actress, Therese Diechans, hit all the right notes with this role. My friend Tom did a fantastic job, playing Titus Lartius, and a general on the other side of the war. Tom played both these characters with an ease that would suggest he could do some damage with the sword or spear he was constantly holding. Even in the scenes where he didn't speak, I could see his characters internal monologue, which was often the coiled awareness of a soldier ready to jump into action at any point. In the later part of the play, Titus Lartius was often the only character onstage in a military uniform during scenes involving the senate, and his presence added a gravity to the surroundings.
There is a tragedy at the root of the play Coriolanus that I find very compelling. I would argue that there is no true villain in this story, and Coriolanus as a man is pushed to make some very difficult moral decisions. Ultimately these decisions doom him, but its difficult to go back and pinpoint what he could have done differently. Instead, this very strong able man finds himself as a pawn in the machinations of others, and even when he tries to chart his own course he cannot escape this destiny.
While I have a lot of thoughts about this production, I'm having more trouble putting them into words than usual. Yet, even setting aside the feelings of a proud friend aside, this was the best Seattle Shakespeare Company production that I've seen and a very enjoyable way to spend an evening.