note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Joe Coyne
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter A Carey
Stage Manager Hannah Crowe
Costume Design by Alexandra Hanson
Scenic and Lighting Design Craig Brennan
Music Ralph Vaughn Williams
Lyrics Percy Bysshe Shelley
Patricians of Rome
Caius Martius Anthony Carrigan
Menenius Agrippa Samuel Slavin
Cominius Drew Bucilia
Titus Lartius Michael Tishel
Volumnia Lily Mooney
Virgilia Helen Cespedes
Young Martius Yavani Bar-Yam
Vateria Leilah Feinstein
Gentlewomen Emily Kuhlman
First Roman Senator Kelly Rizoli
Second Roman Senator Luke Inglis
First Officer Alexander LeFrance
Second Officer Nick Gage
Plebeians of Rome
Sicinius Velutus Sara Green
Junius Brutus Joshua Truitt
First Citizen Simeon Teilelbaum
Third Citizen Piper Galen
First Aedile Eric Ehmann
Tullus Aufidius Yahanna Faith
Volscian Lieutenant Joshua Dennis
First Watch Albert St. Aubin
Second Watch Baindu Coomber
First Senator Adam Burgess
Second Senator Elbert Joseph
Messenger Diana Saker
What do you usually think of when you hear kids yelling in the streets at the top of their lungs carrying baseball bats and waving clubs in the air? And if they do it repeatedly? Well it is not what you would expect. Instead this past weekend it was a celebration of theater with Project Shakespeare’s production of “The Tragedy of Coriolanus” at the air conditioned Lyric Stage of Boston. Some thirty students have been in rehearsal for weeks, learning the text, working on their blocking and trying as best they can to understand the motivation of the man known as Coriolanus.
This last presents the hardest of their problems since if it is possible to learn lines, it is ten times harder to discern the origins of the arrogance, contempt, and unfounded haughty pride that consumes Coriolanus. His failure to moderate contemptible viewpoints almost destroy his city and his family and eventually bring him down. It is hard for our society to comprehend such attitudes. Today with awards based on merit rather than lineage and family, there is little that is assumed: if you can play the part it is yours. You do not succeed to the top post because of the spelling of your last name (I will not press this too far)
Essentially Coriolanus’s refusal to write 25 times, “Dear Townsfolk, I appreciate your efforts and support and could not have made it but for your efforts.” cost him his life. He did not even have to mean it, just say it. So why couldn’t he say it? The choice of this play shows how far the company has come in its expectations.
As to Coriolanus, in the end there is little choice for any of us. We do not feel for Coriolanus that he was other than a programmed fool. He does not think about things, he reacts mostly by striking out. This is a quality for a soldier, it is deadly for a mortal man. When the opportunity arises to escape the dilemma, Coriolanus does not flee. He attacks. He goes over to the enemy and assists them in the destruction of Rome.
Anthony Carrigan plays Coriolanus as a returning self-centered hero with the sole focus of a man deserving nothing more than the immediate award of counsel without the foolish and perfunctory requirements of tradition. Lily Mooney as Volumnia, mother to Coriolanus, exposes to us the root of Coriolanus’ contempt for the world. Volumnia’s love of spilt blood spurts out with a vehemence as Ms Mooney spits her lines at the senators, at Coriolanus’s wife and finally at Coriolanus himself. Her preference to have a dead honored son, rather than a breathing child was drilled into her son; since drilling seems to be her only delivery method. Certainly Volumnia is in the running with Regan and Goneril for winner of the Shakespeare vicious women award. (It is won by Tamora, Queen of the Goths) Samuel Slavin as Menenius reminds me of Pandarus attempting to redesign Coriolanus into a soundbite package acceptable to the citizens.
The minimalist set designed by Craig Brennan with the rolling columns works well creating the entrance to Rome or the camp of Tullus Aufidius. (Is Yahanna Faith always that mad?) And with some thirty actors on stage fighting and running, it is best if there is less scenery. The fight scenes with the varied entrances gives the impression of more live action and with the off stage fighting, of more action to come.
I had trouble for a moment with the lack of difference in the uniforms of the two armies. Set in some timeless world, postal workers and Red Cross nurses clamor to hear the words of their hero dressed in a toga-tshirt. Senators in “The Prisoner” sport jackets and ambassadors in suits bring the action into the modern day without forcing the issue. Alexandra Hanson works these seeming differing eras into an acceptable unity.
Am I expecting too much of high schoolers? Why not, they put on a competent (and I have seen the other kind) production of a very difficult play with motivation being the key to understanding a distant, solitary and essentially ununderstandable character. If you can determine the why of Coriolanus you are on your way to being motivated yourself and to comprehending why we have employees approving a four billion dollar “transfer” of expenses to capital accounts, why corporate officers lend themselves millions of dollars never intending to pay the money back; why legislators call it “borrowing” when they spend in fiscal 2002 what they should not spend until 2003, and why a governor can decimate the Massachusetts Cultural Commission budget by 62%. If you want a crowd jeering at leadership problems, actions like these prompt a revolt. But here I coriolanusize and rant. I will blame it on the humor of the play which brought me to this outlook.
This production is one part of Project Shakespeare season in its ninth year of training young Bostonians to be actors through the works of William Shakespeare. Their other production for 2002 was “The Merchant of Venice”. The plays only ran for this one weekend and while performance is a goal, it is the learning that serves the purpose.
Those students interested in next year’s productions should be in touch with Deborah Thurber who is the founder of Project Shakespeare (4 Elliot Street, Nashua, New Hampshire 03064)