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A CurtainUp Review
Sullivan has staged Shakespeare's 1607-8 Roman play in Beowulf Boritt's rotating Armageddon-like set. Its central prop is a steely contraption that looks like a deconstructed Quonset hut that has been reassembled into a colossal impenetrable structure. It variously represents the gates of Rome, Corioles, and Antium. And, as the action progresses, it magically swivels to expand the performing space or opens panels to morph its metallic contours in a wink. Surrounding the apparatus is a wasteland of junk: a rusted-out car upstage, overturned barrels and crates, and crushed plastic bottles strewn haphazardly here and there. Hhand-held torches that blaze throughout Act 2 and point up Coriolanus' vengeful rage and intent to burn Rome.
For those who need a refresher, here's the story: The military hero Coriolanus (Jonathan Cake) is thrust into the political spotlight after single-handedly conquering the Volscian city of Corioles. His fan club—the affable patrician Menenius (Teagle F. Bougere), his fellow general Cominius (Tom Nelis), and his mother Volumnia (Kate Burton)—all want to capitalize on his latest conquest and promote him as Rome's consul. Although Coriolanus at first secures the “voices” (think votes) of the citizens, he's too naive to realize that he must play the political game (he must wear a toga, an emblem of humility, and reveal his war scars to the commoners) if he's to be confirmed as consulate. When he refuses to do so out of pride, the unraveling of the hero begins.
Jonathan Cake and Kate Burton tackle the plum roles of the Herculean Coriolanus and ferocious Volumnia. with conviction and authority, creating the requisite tension in this mother-son dyad and tragically illustrating how love can kill. Cake already performed Coriolonus at London's Globe Theatre in 2006 and easily slips into the skin of this emotionally-stunted character who's a killing machine. And Burton dives into the part of Volumnia for the first time, and proves to be a dowager in total command.
When it comes to the supporting actors, there are several standouts. The two scheming tribunes, Sicinius Veletus and Junius Brutus, are persuasively performed by Jonathan Hadary and Enid Graham respectively. Whether stirring up the plebeians' fury over the grain shortage or sitting at a table to plot their next political move, they look and act like dyed-in-the-wool union members who are old hands at manipulating a crowd.
Teagle F. Bougere is also very fine as Menenius Agrippa, the old counselor with the common touch,who deliciously delivers the play's famous “fable about the belly” in Act 1. Louis Cancelmi as Coriolanus' arch-rival Tullus Aufidius exudes the necessary swagger and political savvy. Cancelmi's Aufidius is a living paradox right to the end, fervently eulogizing Coriolanus and then strangely walking away from the corpse with no further burial rite given the war hero.
NNeka Okafor is well-cast as Coriolanus quiet wife Virgilia. In in this unconventional reading of her character she is visibly pregnant. Although I at first felt this wasn't supported by the text, on more reflection, I realized that her pregnancy could underscore Coriolanus' virility and genuine love for his wife.
The rest of the cast acquit themselves well, and demonstrate remarkable stamina in this nearly three-hour production. And the creative team ensures that this Coriolanus is as grim as it gets. While I've already detailed Boritt's imposing set above, there's Japhy Weideman's protean lighting that makes it glint even more menancingly. Jessica Paz's sound and Dan Moses Schreier's music waft eerily across the stage to accentuate pivotal dramatic moments and add suspense. Fight director Steve Rankin makes each battle scene gasp-worthy.
The Achilles' heel of the production is Kaye Voyce's costume design. She has the ragtag clothing right on all the plebians' outfits, but the patricians' outfits could have used some sprucing up to be more credible.
This new take on Coriolanus may nott please those who come to the Delacorte yearning for an idyllic experience on a summer evening. But for those who truly hunger for a spine-tingling interpretation of this seldom-produced Roman tragedy, Daniel Sullivan has us experience it at a deeper level and feel it in the time and space of a not-distant future.
For links to producion of other Shakespeare plays, including this one see our Shakespeare quotation page here.
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Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Teagle F. Bougere (Menenius Agrippa), Kate Burton (Volumnia), Jonathan Cake (Caius Martius Coriolanus), Louis Cancelmi (Tullus Aufidius), Gregory Connors (Ensemble), Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr. (Ensemble), Biko Eisen-Martin (Ensemble), Bree Elrod (Ensemble), Christopher Ghaffari (Titus Lartius), Enid Graham (Junius Brutus), Christopher Ryan Grant (Ensemble), Emeka Guindo (Young Martius), Jonathan Hadary (Sicinius Velutus), Suzannah Herschkowitz (Ensemble), Thomas Kopache (First Senator), Tyler La Marr (Ensemble), L'Oreál Lampley (Ensemble), Jack LeGoff (Ensemble), Louis Reyes McWilliams (Ensemble), Max Gordon Moore (First Citizen), Maria Mukuka (Ensemble), Tom Nelis (Cominius), Nneka Okafor (Virgilia), Sebastian Roy (Ensemble), Ali Skamangas (Ensemble), and Amelia Workman (Valeria).
Scenic design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume design: Kaye Voyce
Lighting design: Japhy Weideman
Sound design: Jessica Paz
Music composition: Dan Moses Schreier
Fight direction: Steve Rankin
Hair and wig design: Tom Watson
Stage Manager: Michael D. Domue
The Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Free ticket information available online: www.PublicTheater.org
From 7/16/19; opening 8/05/19; closing 8/11/19
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 7/31/2019
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