'Coriolanus' finds contemporary resonance in ancient Rome

'Coriolanus' finds contemporary resonance in ancient Rome

'Coriolanus' finds contemporary resonance in ancient Rome

Citizens riot in the streets against rumors of price fixing, the state’s coffers fund wars rather than serving the needs of the people, politicians spin on. Sound all too familiar? 

Welcome to Rome, 500 B.C., the world of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” 

Seattle Shakespeare Company waited for an election year before mounting this most political of Shakespeare’s plays. (Coincidentally, a film version starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes comes out later this month and has fueled additional interest in the play.)

Complex character study

Based on a historic personage, Caius Martius (David Drummond) is a soldier’s soldier who, Rambo-like, single-handedly enters the city of Corioli and defeats the Volscian forces, as well as wounding their general Tullus Aufidious (Mike Dooly). 

For his actions, Caius is granted a generalship and the name Coriolanus to honor his victory during the siege of Corioli. His ambitious and controlling mother, Volumnia (Therese Diekhans), convinces Coriolanus to seek office, but he does not have the political acumen to disguise his contempt for the plebeians (commoners). 

The fickle citizenry turn swiftly from celebrating to reviling and banishing him. He joins forces with his former enemy Tullus Aufidious to seek revenge on Rome, but he calls off the attack at the last minute due to his love for his wife, Virgilia (Shanelle Leonard), and his young son (Jack Taylor), leading to Coriolanus’s demise at the hands of the betrayed Aufidious.

Coriolanus is a loving father, husband and (overly) loyal son, but also an efficient killing machine. He is arrogant and prideful, but incapable of boastfulness or speaking untruths in the name of self-promotion, in contrast to the members of the Senate and the manipulative Tribunes of the People. Yet, he is a confident and commanding soldier in battle, confused in peacetime and easily manipulated. 

These ambiguities have made “Coriolanus” fertile ground for propagandists; the play was a favorite of the Nazis. In this production, director David Quicksall embraces the psychological complexity of the character and revels in the ambiguities of the play.

Believable acting, staging

The overall excellent cast includes the physically imposing Drummond, who portrays Coriolanus with ferocity in the battle scenes, giving way to a child-like peevishness in the presence of his mother. 

Diekhans is a powerhouse as Volumnia; even dwarfed by the statuesque male cast, there is no question that mommy is holding the reins. 

Peter Jacobs, as Coriolanus supporter Menenius Agrippa, delivers Shakespearean dialogue with the smoothness of a contemporary politician’s rhetoric. 

Dooly’s boyish Aufidious displays a deft hand at stage combat. 

David Klein and Gerald Browning are appropriately sleazy as the plotting, manipulative Tribunes of the People. 

Cornish College of the Arts senior Leonard is believably loving and loyal as Coriolanus’s wife Virgilia.

Costumes by Pete Rush are an amalgam of Roman and contemporary dress, emphasizing the parallels between ancient Rome and current times. Similarly, Carol Wolfe Clay’s set features graffiti like Roman frescoes. 

Fight choreographer Gordon Carpenter stages realistic scenes of combat, although the duel between Coriolanus and Tullus Aufidious would benefit from some trimming.

Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “Coriolanus” plays through Jan. 29 at the Center House Theater at Seattle Center. For more information, visit www.seattleshakespeare.org.

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