nytheatre.com review by Jane Titus
July 11, 2013
Martin Boersma and Russell Peck in a scene from #CORIOLANUS | Bailey Carr
At the moment it seems that adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays are popular. I don’t know exactly why – it could be the popularity of Alan Cumming’s MacBeth. I have found over the years that there is a dialogue if not a downright argument between concept productions of Shakespeare versus text based productions. At the moment it seems concept is ascendant over text. I must confess to being staunchly in the camp of text over concept. Shakespeare’s plays have survived for over 400 years. He produced some of the definitive language for how we conceive of our world.
Coriolanus is a problematic play. It has strong themes dealing with privilege and class. They are not comfortable themes for most Americans to examine. And the protagonist in the play is an anti-hero that has daunted many a strong actor; inherent in the play is a certain revulsion to the main character that poses a challenge to anyone attempting this play. In Paul Bedard’s adaptation of Coriolanus most of the major themes of the original work are represented – upper versus lower class – the good for all over the good for the individual – public versus private. I do not mind condensations of Shakespeare. I think if done meticulously they can enlighten the text. In #Coriolanus Paul Bedard has succeeded in keeping the cynicism of the populace alive in the Tribunes played by Julia Giolzetti and Julie Robles. The patrician point of view in the play is left for the actress playing Volumnia to carry. This is successful to a lesser extent. The Roman senators and generals were all conflated into the character of Coriolanus’ mother, Volumnia. With Volumnia (performed by Madeline Reed) playing all the public and private scenes, we lost the tension in the story between Coriolanus’ public and private personae. In the original script, Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother represents his personal interests until the very end of the play. Only at the end of the play does she act as a public agent. As all the Roman generals and politicians are represented by character of Volumnia, this distinction becomes muddied. I think one more actor to represent the Senate and the Roman Generals would have solved this problem. I know that Mr. Bedard was working with the theme of public versus private by looking at his scene break down. It is very difficult to have public scenes with a very small cast.
I was glad to see that Mr. Bedard chose to keep most of Shakespeare’s language in his production. I would like to see his actors trusting the text a bit more. One of the principle aspects of a Shakespeare play is the rhythm of the language. There is a flow and heartbeat to the plays. It is very important to keep the language moving so that this beat does not stop or only stops rarely. In this production, the actors were allowed to stop this flow. They took many moments not speaking and then started the play back up again. In a contemporary play this is standard practice as the contemporary person is often meaning something other than what they are saying. The pause between the lines can become a significant moment in a modern play. This is not the case with Shakespeare. The characters in Shakespeare are who they say they are and their truth is in their language, not in their subtext. Subtext as we know it does not exist in Shakespeare. It is crucial to keep the language moving. There are very few pauses in any Shakespeare play. Unfortunately many pauses crept into this production. As Mr. Bedard kept the original language, I think he needed to keep the structure of the verse as well.
The energy in the play and some of the stylization was effective. The costumes by Dav Burrington were innovative and fun. The texting and projections were an interesting interjection into the world of the play. But once again, pacing is crucial in any play, and just like in real life, the time spent texting seemed to drop the energy in the piece. The lighting by Dan Stearns on the whole was effective. I do not mind people playing with and stretching Shakespeare. Mr. Bedard took Shakespeare’s lower class characters and allowed the actresses playing them to improvise very informal language. I thought it was a fun choice to show the breadth of language in the play. Considering that many believe that the comic characters in the original Shakespearean productions could have been improvisational and could speak in contemporary vernacular, this is an interesting choice to make. I enjoyed the breadth of language in the play.
Martin Boersma brings a solid technique to his acting and fighting. It was good to see his ease with the language and pacing of the play. The choreography which was done by Katie Palmer was effective for the most part and I enjoyed the switching in and out of real time. Over all the stories of the battles was told succinctly and clearly. The action was ably supported by Randall Benichak’s music. I found it enhanced the action of the play without imposing on it. Well done, Mr. Benichak.
All in all, there was successful vision in the play and a lot of hard work. There were a few crucial places – namely pacing and how the text was cut – that needed more attention. Bravo to the company for taking on such an ambitious project.