Monday, July 11, 2016

Coriolanus vs. the Rabble

Yesterday, I saw Greg Derelian star in Coriolanus at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. This production, beautifully directed by Brian B. Crowe, doesn't pull any punches. As much as it criticizes the arrogance of the elite, it also refuses to spare the fickleness of democracy, attacking every aspect of the political system.

Crowe sets this tale from the early days of Republican Rome in an imagined Italy of the 1930s. Derelian towers over much of the rest of the cast, and his character unmistakably proves his martial prowess, conquering the Volscian town of Corioli and earning the cognomen of Coriolanus. He's a shoe-in to be elected consul, but his high-handed ways alienate the newly elected Tribunes of the People, played with cynical savagery by John Ahlin and Corey Tazmania.

I saw Ahlin in the 2007 Broadway revival of Journey's End, but instead of exhibiting stoic heroism in the trenches of World War I, this time he was manipulating crowds and conspiring to find ways to invalidate elections. Tazmania, who previously played Nancy in Crowe's Oliver Twist at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, is just as shady, in spite of her earnest appearance.

The production makes great use of the difference in physical stature between Tazmania and Derelian. When the comparatively diminutive Tribune announces that the poison of the warrior's choler shall remain where it is and spread no further, Coriolanus answers back mockingly:

                                                                           Shall remain?
               Hear you this Triton of the minnows? Mark you
               Her absolute "shall"?

The gender switch for the Tribune requires a small pronoun shift, but having Coriolanus confront not just a small man, but a small woman, works quite effectively. We see how his toxic masculinity makes him unsuited for anything other than war, and that a woman holding up a finger is irrelevant to him, law or no.

As the elder statesman and co-consul Cominius, Raphael Nash Thompson tries to restore order, but he is equally powerless against the underhanded Tribunes and the revenge-fueled Coriolanus. Thompson was in Theatre for a New Audience's Pericles earlier this year, playing Gower, and once again he manages to get the audience to trust him as he guides them along the story.

Coriolanus is playing until July 24th. If you want tickets, go to:

Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey