Written around 1608, CORIOLANUS is definitely one of Shakespeare’s minor works. In fact, rather than one of the last two tragedies which he penned, it feels like something he tossed off while honing his skills in early life. Nonetheless, Shakespeare is Shakespeare, so you can’t go wrong. Less frequently produced than other tragedies of the later period, CORIOLANUS nevertheless continues to delve into the fatal flaw which led to his hero’s downfall – in this case, overweening pride and huge ego. Of particular interest is his introduction of several issues which may resonate with today’s audiences, including a populace who feel neglected by their government and rulers who are able to ignore the very real needs of their constituents. A situation ripe for disaster.
Enter Caius Martius, a war hero who has been given the honorary title of Coriolanus (David DeSantos). He is truly an outstanding Roman general but a poor politician and a worse representative of the common man. For he really doesn’t care about plebians and remains true to his rigid elitist beliefs come hell or high water. Even starving masses and food riots don’t seem to faze him. Coriolanus is an easy man to trigger anger and incite plots to overthrow him. Unfortunately for Coriolanus, he’s really not very likeable; but – to his credit – his mother Volumnia (Ellen Geer) and his wife Virgilia (Michelle Wicklas) love him dearly.
Coriolanus manages to slough off every well-meaning recommendation to improve his image – until finally he goes too far and is banished from Rome. And where does an exiled leader go? To his arch enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Max Lawrence), of course. Aufidius is the general he recently defeated and nearly killed. Let’s not forget that he did kill Aufidius’ beloved wife and infant son. Aufidius is a man who is likely to hold a grudge.
But don’t forget that this is ancient Rome, where military might and battle savvy are more highly valued than almost anything else. Perhaps the two men might reach a rapprochement if Coriolanus would agree to defeat Rome? The idea is sure to appeal to a warrior like Coriolanus – the chance to exhibit his war smarts and, at the same time, get a little payback from the ungrateful Romans who threw him out of town.
As always, Theatricum Botanicum has nailed Shakespeare. There’s something invigorating about seeing soldiers clashing, swords and shields drawn, while they sprint around the mountainside with testosterone-laced excitement. The outdoor venue never fails to bring a new vigor to a tale first told hundreds of years ago. Special kudos to directors Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall, who keep the action moving at lightning speed. While this is not Shakespeare’s most profound play, it has enough combat to keep the audience attentive. Fight choreographers Dane Oliver and Aaron Hendry have outdone themselves. Despite a temperature hovering in the triple digits, the ensemble convincingly fought to the death. The entire cast and production crew deserve a high-five for again bringing Shakespeare to contemporary audiences with skillful and adroit competence.
CORIOLANUS runs through September 23, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Saturday 6/2, Saturday 6/9, Friday 8/3, Sunday 9/9, and Saturday 9/15. Performances are at 4 p.m. on Saturday 6/16, Saturday 6/23, Saturday, 7/7, Saturday 7/21, Sunday 7/29, Sunday 8/12, Saturday 8/25, Saturday 9/1, and Sunday 9/23. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets range from $25 to $38.50. For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online.