Coriolanus

The first line of David Quicksall’s director’s note is a quote from the opening scene of the play, spoken by a Plebian citizen: “If the wars eat us not up, the rich will; and there’s all the love they bear us.” This is the theme for Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of Coriolanus, the Bard’s story of the ancient Roman anti-hero, Caius Martius Coriolanus — battle-hardened warrior, hater of the little people, and eventual exile of Rome who teams up with his sworn enemy from a neighboring country to get revenge on those who rejected him.

The production blends the ancient with modern. The pictures on the side panels that line the stage are done in a 20th century graffiti style in the colors of dried blood and rust — Roman soldier with a plumed helmet holds a sword in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth; a classical statue of a woman with long black hair is superimposed onto newspaper print. Characters wear modern clothes with Roman-style touches like bits of leathery armor and long scarves draped over suits and skirts like togas, fastened with gold brooches and pins. The Roman citizens who protest the high prices of food carry signs that you see at today’s Occupy Wall Street protests. Perhaps most of all, the actors’ modern delivery of the Elizabethan language and their naturalistic styles of movement lend themselves to great moments of comedy in an otherwise dark play.

As Coriolanus, actor David Drummond holds himself like a coiled spring ever ready to lash out and fight. As is fitting of the part, he seems much more relaxed covered in blood and holding a battle-axe than wearing a peace-time uniform or a senator‚Äôs suit. His mother Volumnia, played by Therese Diekhans, carries herself with both the grace befitting a noblewoman of the time and the single-minded ferocity of a devoted warrior. Volumnia has trained her son since birth to fight for Rome, perhaps because she is not allowed to do so herself, and she still looms large over her adult son’s life. Both Drummond and Diekhans play their roles expertly.

The very effective sound design and interesting stage pictures dovetail well with the tension in Shakespeare’s language and keep the play moving at a strong pace. The timeline of Roman history and chart of Roman political structure included in the program serve as nice guides to the play. This is modernized Shakespeare well done.

Coriolanus. By William Shakespeare. Directed by David Quicksall. Seattle Shakespeare Company, Center House Theatre at Seattle Center. January 4 – 29, 2012. Tickets and information at http://www.seattleshakespeare.org or 206-733-8222.

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