Accomplishing something impressive is no guarantee of popularity—just look at Anne Hathaway. We the people generally prefer our public figures to be not only exceptional in some way but also relatable. Larger-than-life yet down-to-earth. William Shakespeare presents a sophisticated and strikingly modern dramatization of this dynamic in Coriolanus, a late-career tragedy that’s thrillingly realized here by the Hypocrites.
Roman warrior Caius Martius Coriolanus (a ferocious Steve O’Connell) is a brave and brutally effective soldier, but he’s a lousy politician. Proud by nature and uncomfortable in the spotlight, he simply can’t bring himself to grovel to the plebes, no matter the effect on his career. Consequently, the people turn on their hero, who further hurts his cause by publicly cursing the masses in language that makes Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remarks sound like The Communist Manifesto.
In Geoff Button’s staging, Rome is a powder keg threatening to blow at any moment, thanks to the charlatans in charge and the hooligans both within and without. Coriolanus has no reliable guide through this minefield—not even his honor-obsessed mother (a tough-as-nails Donna McGough). In fact, his strongest connection is with his chief rival in combat, Aufidius (Jude Roche), perhaps because he too is more comfortable with taking action than managing his image. As in the 2011 movie adaptation, it’s a decidedly homoerotic connection, intensified by O’Connell and Roche’s palpable chemistry and the downright steamy hand-to-hand combat designed by fight choreographer Ryan Bourque.
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