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Coriolanus

In Play Reviews on November 25, 2013 at 10:08 pm

A Review

 

At the mention of “Shakespearean tragedy,” most people immediately think of Macbeth, Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet. But perhaps more attention should fall on some of the Bard’s lesser-known works, such as Coriolanus. This play follows the story of a Roman general (Marcius, later named Coriolanus) whose quest for power and whose war-filled life leads to his destruction. (No, that’s not a spoiler alert. The word “tragedy” should be a clue, after all.)

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From the first time the audience meets Marcius, his prejudice against and disdain for the plebians—the common people—shows in his mockery of their opinions and disregard for their need of food. While his disdain for the common people is great, his hatred for Aufidius is even greater. Aufidius leads the nearby Volscian tribe, and is Marcius’ frequent enemy in battle. And yet, through their mutual hatred, Marcius and Aufidius hold a certain…respect, if you will, for each other’s abilities. Marcius says of Aufidius, “He is a lion I am proud to hunt.” They meet again in battle, but Aufidius’ men lead him away before either leader dies. Upon returning to Rome, Marcius obtains heroic status and the new name Coriolanus by the nobles of the city, while the plebians see only arrogance and a desire for power in him.

The people rise up against Coriolanus, and nearly kill him. Menenius, who acts as peace-maker throughout the play, intercedes on his behalf. The people banish Coriolanus, who must leave behind his wife, son, and mother. In exile, he meets with Aufidius so that he might join the Volscian tribe against his own Roman people. As Coriolanus soon takes more leadership in the army, Aufidius grows envious and resentful at this change of power. But unlike Coriolanus, Aufidius is willing to bide his time and wait for the right moment to regain his position. As the Romans learn that Coriolanus joined with the Volscians with the intent to attack, they send Menenius and Coriolanus’ family to plead with him to spare the city. Finally, Coriolanus’ mother breaks through to him, and Coriolanus agrees to abandon his attack, thus securing his own demise at Aufidius’ hands.

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This particular production, as performed by Gamut Theatre’s Harrisburg Shakespeare Company, set the action of the play in the 1800’s as the American western frontier expanded and wars with Indians were frequent. This setting worked very well with the text, providing a poignant context to the atrocities of battle. The language, though Shakespearean, did not seem to clash with the setting and the two worked together splendidly. The set itself was a blend of worlds, allowing for settings in Rome and in the Volscian capital, Antium. The platform and stairs provided ample space for the actors and an appropriate location for characters’ public addresses.

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The costumes suited the updated period, incorporating a “western frontier” look with some leftover Civil War pieces. The Volscian army wore more simplistic pants, but also war paint on the face and torso. The use of the stage blood was very effective and well “executed,” if I may be so bold as to use that term. While the play was not a complete blood-bath, Coriolanus appeared on stage with his fair share of stage-blood. The lighting, though not extravagant or particularly spectacular, was appropriate at setting the right look for each scene. I personally would have liked the final light to linger on the dead Coriolanus for a moment more after Aufidius’ exit, but that kind of timing may alter from night to night regardless.

The actors did a fantastic job with each of their roles individually, and in working together as a company. Each clearly understood the text and the purpose behind each line. Thomas Weaver portrayed the violent Coriolanus with clarity and gave room for the few moments that show a hint of heart. When his mother pleads before him, his entire being shook with the weight of his decision before he cried out in agony. Philip Wheeler was engaging as the peacemaking Menenius, at times teasing the Romans into laughter, and at other times caught between two opposing sides. Ian Potter gave a compelling performance as Aufidius, his confident presence counterbalancing Coriolanus’ raging fits. (The stage combat between Aufidius and Coriolanus was especially well-done and fascinating to watch.) Tara Herweg performed Coriolanus’ mother with power and gentle authority. The quality of acting was very good from all, and the work as a whole was strong.

Director J. Clark Nicholson did an excellent job of guiding the play, as the scenes built toward the climax. The pacing was quick, such that the play never seemed to drag or even have a lull, but neither did it race out of control. The company worked together very well under his direction, and all the elements wove together seamlessly to create a stunning performance of this gripping Shakespearean play.

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by Kristin PostDSC_0257

Freud’s Last Session

In Play Reviews on November 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm

by Mark St. Germain

A review by Katrina Gass

Yes, dear readers, I have changed my name because over the summer I got married. Since that confusion has now been cleared up, I hope you can enjoy today’s review, which carries with it some heavy but worthwhile thoughts.

 

Is there a God? Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Who was Jesus Christ – really? These questions, and many others, stop the audience member in his tracks and force him to really examine what he thinks about the struggle that is existence in this most recent production by Centre Stage in Greenville, SC.

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In Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain, the legendary psychoanalyst invites a guest over to his home for tea. This guest is the equally legendary Christian apologist and author, C.S. Lewis. The meeting of these two men is fictitious, but could have happened during the last years of Freud’s life, which were spent in London. The possibility is tantalizing, given their diametrically opposed worldviews and their contrasting, yet admittedly impressive accomplishments.

 

The aging, terminally ill Sigmund Freud is played by Ron Pyle, a theatre arts professor at Bob Jones University. Among other roles, Pyle has played Hamlet, Richard III, and Prospero in the university’s Shakespearean productions, and has many years of directing experience. Pyle brings a likeability to Freud, but also aptly shows us the physical and emotional pain that the dying man was experiencing.

 

C.S. Lewis, who at the start of the play is a new, “reluctant” convert to Christianity, is played by Trevor Furlong, an appropriately British actor who has played several roles at Centre Stage Theatre. Furlong brings a vulnerability and some hesitancy to Lewis, which is appropriate since at the time of the play’s events Lewis would not yet have written any of his major theological works.

 

Yet even as a baby Christian, Lewis is fairly well-matched against the cantankerous Freud in the events of this play. The action begins on September 3, 1939, as the world braces itself for what will develop into World War II. Freud, a Jew, has fled Vienna and started a practice in London. Although Freud is suffering from a particularly savage oral cancer, he still has enough energy to question why such an impressive intellect as Lewis would have succumbed to the delusion of God.

 

As you might expect, much of the play consists of verbal sparring and logical argument. If that were the only substance of this play I would advise an audience member to bring a cup of strong coffee to carry him through the ordeal. Thankfully, there is more to Freud’s Last Session than cerebral battle.

 

As Ron Pyle put it in the brief talkback afterward, it is important to look for what actually happens in a play, and to examine which characters change. This exercise will keep you from drowning in the witty sparring that makes up much of a play like this. While one might say that not much happens while two men converse in a sitting room, if you look closer you will discover more.

 

During the play’s events, an air raid siren goes off, followed a few minutes later by the loud sound of planes overhead. Lewis, having fought in World War I, is profoundly affected by these reminders of war, but stays with Freud during what both men think is an air attack. This act of selflessness is an important moment in the play and affects Freud’s view of his opponent.

 

Later on, Freud’s prosthetic mouthpiece causes him severe pain, and he asks Lewis to help him remove it. This difficult and gruesome act by Lewis does bring Freud some relief and makes him very grateful to his intellectual enemy.

 

Unsurprisingly, neither of these men changes his view of the world or of religion before curtain call. But that isn’t what this play is about. Furlong stated in the talkback that what is important is to question your belief system every day. If a person decides that they have all the answers, they will make no progress and might be living their entire life under false assumptions. But if one questions his beliefs every day, examining his conclusions honestly, he is more likely to discover the truth.

 

Lewis, in the final scene of the play, prepares to leave. He pauses to say that, far from being settled in his beliefs, his view of God changes almost daily, that God himself shatters it and that the divine “incognito” is extremely difficult to penetrate. In other words, he expresses that God is everywhere but hard to understand. So Lewis keeps trying.

 

Each of us, if we want to discover the truth, will keep trying, keep examining, and keep questioning what we believe. Not necessarily to change it, but to better understand its complexities and implications for our lives.

 

A modern audience member will learn from this play a little more about the lives of two famous men, will hopefully examine his own heart’s beliefs, and as Lewis states on his way out of the final scene, will hopefully “come awake, and stay awake.”

 

If you can, please try to make it the final showing of Freud’s Last Session, taking place at 7:00 pm on this Tuesday, November 5 at Centre Stage Theatre in downtown Greenville. Your soul will be better for it.

 

By Katrina GassBio_Shots-3