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Photograph: Carol RoseggCoriolanus

Theater review: Coriolanus holds up a cracked mirror to the Presidential race

Written by
Sandy MacDonald

Though distinct parallels emerge between Shakespeare’s late-period tragedy about electoral politics in 493 B.C.E. Rome and our current situation—starting with the fickleness of the masses—you’re not required to draw any. Given that this complex text has been condensed to suit a small cast and a slightly shorter running time, you’ll be busy just tracking the action.

There’s plenty of it in this visceral production. Banners, balloons, blood; red is the favored accent in Brett J. Banakis’s bare, white forum of a set. Dion Johnstone, rippling with vigor, plays the conflicted title character, an elite warrior turned reluctant pol whose self-image as a “servant” of the people fails to camouflage his fundamental elitism. Hounded by a pair of scheming tribunes (played by Stephen Spinella and Merritt Janson), the hero, prodded to unleash his contempt, finds himself reciprocally scorned. Opting for exile over execution, he signs on with his former battleground nemesis (coke-eyed Matthew Amendt) and mounts an attack on his own city-state.

It’s easy to foresee how this tactic might end badly. Meanwhile, we get to savor the oily machinations of Coriolanus’ avuncular handler (Patrick Page, his trademark sonority here Texas-tinged), as well as the tirades of a tiger mother (the ferocious Lisa Harrow) whose claws tear all.

Barrow Street Theatre (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Sexton. With Dion Johnstone. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. Through Nov 20. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

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