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.)


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.


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.


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.


by Kristin PostDSC_0257


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