Almost everyone had the same general reactions when I told them I was going to see a production of Coriolanus: “That’s not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays” or “That’s really not his best work”. I had never read it- nor had I seen it staged anywhere- so I approached the material with fresh eyes. I was hesitant, given the fact that I did not know the theatre company and believe that Shakespeare in the wrong hands can be deadly.
My fears were mostly relieved with Combative Theater Company’s adaptation called Coriolanus: From Man to Dragon. Omri Kadim has whittled down the text to a brisk two hour event. Perhaps it is even shortened too much, for at times it is hard to follow. Nonetheless, it is a large, physical, and hugely ambitious undertaking that seems appropriately timed given the current climate of U.S. Politics.
The Bard’s Roman tragedy opens as a group of commoners, Plebeians, are rioting over the fact that the political Kings have denied them access to grain. They believe that Caius Marcius (later named “Coriolanus”) is to blame. Marcius leaves to fight in Corioli and when he returns, he is encouraged by his mother, Volumnia, to run for consul. He does. He wins. He faces political resistance, blames the common folk for controlling the minds of his political opposition and eventually—well, I hate to announce a spoiler alert but this is a Shakespearean tragedy so you can be sure he doesn’t end up opening a cute little bake shop in Brooklyn.
The cast is mixed in terms of classical stage experience and fortunately, with regard to racial diversity. Patricia Black as Volumnia is captivating and perhaps one of the most worthwhile reasons to catch this bloody tale .
Yuriy Pavlish’s direction is praise-worthy and he makes good use of the large space in the basement of Our Lady of Pompeii Church (also known as Italy Time theater). The cast mingle with the audience throughout, but there is also on-stage seating for those wishing to be less involved.
Coriolanus: From Man to Dragon runs through this weekend, November 20th at Italy Time Theatre (238 Bleecker Street). For tickets and information, visit http://shakespeareinthesquare.com/