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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 03
Coriolanus: Occupy Rome?
Arts & Entertainment
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Coriolanus: Occupy Rome?

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Coriolanus
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through January 29


Shakespeare is known for a handful of plays that are done every year in hundreds (if not thousands) of theatrical venues. The Seattle Shakespeare Company does almost nothing but Shakespeare (though their next production is George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion), and even this company has never done Shakespeare's Coriolanus in its 20-year history.

Director David Quicksall has made the answer to the question 'Why now?' abundantly clear. The main character, Coriolanus (David Drummond), is a wartime general who has to go to the people to be elected to the Roman Senate, but he treats the people so abhorrently that they decline to elect him and essentially run him out of town! Quicksall even has the people raise placards and sloganize - shades of the 99%.

Coriolanus then goes to the general of the nearby country which was most recently trying to overtake Rome and offers him his services. Aufidius (Mike Dooly) embraces him, first cautiously, then enthusiastically, and they mount a new attack on Rome that appears unstoppable. Remember, Coriolanus is a great general, no matter whom he faces.

The only way Coriolanus is finally persuaded to stop his march on Rome is when his war-like, unyielding mother Volumnia (Therese Diekhans) bends herself and begs him to think of her and his wife and child before they are killed in the ensuing rout. Her impassioned speech finally succeeds in touching his heart and breaking his spirit of revenge. In so doing, she makes a good argument for how he can succeed in bringing peace by reconciling Aufidius and the Roman Senate.

However, Aufidius feels incensed that he's been taken in by Coriolanus' change of heart and murders him instead. End of play. We never learn whether Rome is overrun or not.

While the parallels are drawn between the current Occupy movement and this play, there is a troublesome and unanswered aspect in the second act. As the people of Rome learn that Coriolanus is on the warpath against them, their leaders turn to them and repeat, over and over, 'What have you done?' And now the people answer that they didn't really mean it at all. This turning of the tables of blame is a terrible backlash to the parallels to the Occupy movement.

If one ponders Shakespeare's intended meaning , one might think about how he generally wrote for nobility, who were the main attendees at his theatrical productions and the way in which he supported himself. Perhaps the idea that people could democratically elect leadership was entirely too threatening and Shakespeare felt he had to show that the people's judgment was flawed and doomed to failure. So, after carefully drawing the parallel, Quicksall finds himself undermining the movement, however inadvertently.

The production by Seattle Shakespeare Company is a solid one, though it has a messy Act One. The play has a number of problems not necessarily fixable by a production company unless it chooses to delete masses of text. Drummond is well-suited for the main role, being a large and imposing man. He's very believable as the general with such military prowess that everyone fears him. He's also believable as the proud and disdainful politician who doesn't understand the need to talk softly and graciously in order to win an election.

Diekhans strides powerfully around, exhorting her son to glory, and instructing him on how it's honorable to lie to people about his feelings to win their affections and get elected. If that is another parallel to today's politics, we should watch out for candidates who make nice just to get elected.

Gifted supporting players include Peter Jacobs, David Klein, and Gerald Browning. A small ensemble becomes soldiers, public, household servants, and more when required. Special technical achievement by sound designer Nathan Wade creates majestic war music and a cacophony of attendant noise, increasing the sensory immersion of the evening.

For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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