Another Election Gone Awry
Nov 14, 2016
“Get you hence instantly, and tell those friends, / They have chose a consul that will from them take / Their liberties; make them of no more voice / Than dogs that are as often beat for barking / As therefore kept to do so.”
Thus warns William Shakespeare’s Brutus, who shortly thereafter wounds his enemy Coriolanus not with a knife, but with the power of the people. In Omri Kadim’s new adaptation of the bard’s classic play, “Coriolanus: From Man to Dragon” — produced by Shakespeare in the Square with the aptly named Combative Theater Company — verbal and physical wounds vie for the
In some of its best moments, the two kinds of injuries are one and the same. To see it on election night was electrifying and distracting; to see it after the election could be even more energizing. The battles are a vindicating expression of the tension that never quite broke into physical altercation during the campaign.
Caius Marcius (later to become Coriolanus, played by Jefferson Reardon) first arrives in the midst of the citizens — which includes the audience — herded together in the center of the performance space. He makes his way through by punching, kicking and spitting in the faces of the protesting crowd. This extreme physical action persists throughout much of the play, with choreographed fight scenes punctuating every battle, war and even domestic dispute.
“Coriolanus” is a play well-suited to this treatment, but at points the fights become more distracting than edifying. For example, when Volumnia grabs a gentlewoman’s hair and tortures her while considering whether or not to see Virgilia, this violence raises more questions than it answers. But this is quickly forgotten with Coriolanus’s deadly walk to the throne in the second half, punctuated with menacing percussion from Aiden Farrell and surrounded by a bloody battle.
The acting is also largely physical. Reardon did perfectly well with the text, but the real attraction of his performance was his clear comfort and love of battle garments. No words are needed to perceive his discomfort in civilian clothes. His victor’s garland, scorned by Coriolanus, looks like a crown of thorns. His stylized makeup is uncomfortably flashy for a consul, but makes for menacing war paint in later scenes.
Reardon is far from the only star. Shakespeare in the Square has always had compelling ensemble in each play, and though not every performance in “Coriolanus” was equally absorbing, the familiarity and ability of each actor was clear.
Shakespeare in the Square has a record of excellence in their Washington Square Park productions, and in this venture into ticketed theater, their record remains untarnished. The production competes with Red Bull Theater, a few blocks away on Barrow St. From the intense dedication of the actors to the environment crafted with every theatrical tool to the shocking and painful ultimate conclusion, this is a “Coriolanus” well worth seeing. Its appropriateness for this election, whether intentional or not, makes it almost a required show to see this month.
“Coriolanus: From Man to Dragon” is showing at Washington Square Park through Nov. 20.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 14 print edition. Email Michael Landes at [email protected]