Theater review by Adam Feldman
Jonathan Cake is a glorious hunk of mess in Shakespeare in the Park's astute and timely production of Coriolanus, a tragedy with a singularly disagreeable hero at its core. The patrician title character is a king among warriors: In one early scene, staged almost like a video game, he charges alone into an enemy city, slaying foe after foe until he emerges drenched in blood and luster. But back home in ancient Rome, his pride—his determination “to honor mine own truth”—curdles into churlishness: He squirms at being praised, and rages with contempt for the hoi polloi, whom he denounces as filthy parasites. When the common people turn on him, at the goading of their clever but blinkered tribunes (Jonathan Hadary and Enid Graham), he sputters with disbelief about their failure to appreciate him. He doesn’t care how unlikable that makes him. He has saved Rome, but he can’t help himself.
Coriolanus offers an engrossing psychological portrait of a man who, despite his refusal to show off his war wounds, wears his weaknesses on his naked arms—where they can be manipulated not only by his enemies but by the two people he cares about most: his warlike mother (Kate Burton) and his nemesis (and barely suppressed man crush), the perfidious Volscian leader Aufidius (Louis Cancelmi). The superb Cake brings a leaping physical energy to his performance, and like the rest of the cast in Daniel Sullivan’s forceful yet nuanced account (including Teagle F. Bougere as a fellow patrician leader), he delivers Shakespeare’s winding verse with precision and lucidity. But the focus is not merely personal. Like its close cousin Julius Caesar, which the Public presented two years ago in a much-misunderstood production, Coriolanus is concerned with the dual threats of tyranny and the madness of crowds. Sullivan’s version sets the action in a postapocalyptic world of scarce resources and ugly corrugated metal (the striking set is by Beowulf Boritt) that calls attention to the play’s plangent modern resonances. Politics in Coriolanus is a game that must be played—and played with care. The alternative is tragedy.
Delacorte Theater (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With Jonathan Cake, Kate Burton, Teagle F. Bougere, Louis Cancelmi. Running time: 2hrs 45mins. One intermission. See our complete guide to Shakespeare in the Park tickets for details.