Sunday, July 1, 2018

Coriolanus (review)

Credit: Ian Flanders
Spoilers ahoy!

Hardly anyone does Coriolanus these days (although it was once Shakespeare's most popular play in this country).  However, that seems to be changing.  To my knowledge the Theatricum Botanicum's production marks the third such within the last twelve months here in Los Angeles!  This tale of a General during the early days of the Roman Republic seems to strike a chord.  Some see it as a tale of a would-be tyrant trying to put down the common man, whereas others call it an indictment of mob rule.  Recently I most often hear it referred to as revealing what happens to the battle-hardened war veteran when they seek to return of civilian life.

Credit: Ian Flanders
The title character (David DeSantos) is indeed a great warrior, one who relishes the 'high' of battle, honors his fellow soldiers and officers, routinely downplays his own accomplishments.  He also despises civilians who are not, like him, Patricians i.e. of the wealthy class who control government.  When they almost riot because they lack food, he feels rage not only that they dare complain but that the Senate is so weak as to feed them!  Clearly much of this he learned from his charming dragon of a mother Volumnia (Ellen Geer), who finds delightful the idea her beloved son might die horribly in battle, hopes her grandson might die as well, but bewails the fact ordinary people despise him for hating them.

Credit: Ian Flanders
In the wake of a war, Coriolanus wins enormous renown and would in the natural course of events then be elected Consul (the kinda/sorta equivalent of President).  Yet to do so he must win the approval of the lower classes.  It physically disgusts him to ask them for anything.  The Tribunes (Alan Blumenfeld, Christopher Wallinger)--sacrocanct representatives of the common people--remind citizens of how he has always treated them, and deliberately goad him into declaring his hatred of those very same citizens, even threatening the Tribunes which is treason.  The city banishes him, so he seeks out Rome's enemy Aufidius (Dane Oliver) to join with his forces and lead them into sacking the city in revenge for his humiliation!

Credit: Ian Flanders
One can see how interpretation becomes key in judging this story and its characters.  That frankly is the one huge gaping problem with this specific production.  Pretty much the entire cast does a wonderful job, overall.  Staging is about as wonderful as one might ask in terms of using the magnificent outdoor theatre at their disposal.  Sets and costumes and fight scenes were great.

But all we the audience got was the plot, with individual actors portraying the emotional truths of their moments.  All well and good that, especially since the plot proves compelling.  Lacking a unifying idea, however, the play becomes nothing but a plot.  Note please this is different from taking sides or necessarily pushing a message, but more like focusing on what questions does this production wish to explore?  What moments and decisions are most important?  Without that, pretty much any of Shakespeare's plays becomes nothing but a well done soap opera.  Including the puzzling, challenging piece that is Coriolanus.  I enjoyed the show.  Felt wrapped up in events.  But other than appreciation for a well told tale I carried nothing else with me when leaving the theatre.

Coriolanus plays in rotating repertory Sunday July 1 at 8pm, Saturdays July 7 and 21 at 4pm, Sunday July 29 at 4pm, Friday August 3 at 8pm, Sunday August 12 at 4pm, Saturdays August 25 and September 1 at 4pm, Sunday September 9 at 8pm, Saturday September 15 at 8pm and Sunday September 23 at 4pm.  Performances are at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd (midway between Pacific Coast Hwy and the Ventura Freeway), Topanga CA 90290

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