Riff on Shakespeare strays but entertains


Howard Live


Shakespeare's Coriolanus, presented by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company through Nov. 19, is a tragedy about politics and personalities. The title character is a strong man who is destroyed because he won't play the political game.

Director Ian Gallanar, in a program note, says he treated the script the way jazz musicians treat a melody: "riffing on it rather than playing it note for note with technical perfection."

In his version, the dialogue is trimmed, scenes are rearranged, speeches are swapped. Although the production is set in a fanciful present day, we're given elaborately choreographed sword fights, with roaring and screaming and pints of fake blood.

There are sexual situations and a nude scene that aren't called for in Shakespeare's script, plus a few gunshots for shock value. To emphasize all this, the troupe's publicity specifies that no one younger than 18 will be admitted.

Many of the play's subtleties are missing, but the basic story comes across.

Caius Marcius is a Roman general, just back from a successful campaign against the neighboring Volscians. For having captured the enemy city of Corioli, he is dubbed Coriolanus.

He runs for leader of Rome because it is expected of a man in his position. He does not want the job - he is satisfied with being a soldier - but his family and associates urge him on.

Coriolanus fails as a public man because he refuses to strut like a hero and flatter the public. (There's an amusing scene in which he ineptly tries to sell himself to the voters but can't help showing his contempt.) He is brought down by a pair of crafty politicians and is banished from Rome.

Seeking revenge, he joins his former enemies. Volscian General Tullus Aufidius gives him half his army, and Coriolanus sets out to destroy Rome. At the last moment, his mother and wife persuade him make peace. This enrages Aufidius and leads to tragedy.

Coriolanus (Patrick Kilpatrick) and his fellow Roman generals, Cominius (Steve Beall) and Titus Lartius (Michael Sullivan) are portrayed as a rough bunch of men, indistinguishable from one another. Aufidius (Christopher Niebling) is another ruffian, with a deceitful streak that Coriolanus lacks.

Karen Morgan plays Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia, a bloodthirsty supporter of her son's career who becomes an advocate of peace when her city and her life are threatened.

Chris Graybill and Charlie Mitchell offer fine satirical portraits of the tribunes Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus, two politicians skilled in manipulating public opinion.

Menenius Agrippa (Paul Danaceau), a wise old friend of Coriolanus, is a prominent character in Shakespeare's play. In this production, he becomes a talking head on a screen. Most of his dialogue is parceled out among several other characters, including a tipsy prostitute (played by Christina Schlegel) invented by the director.

Many of Menenius' words are spoken by Coriolanus' wife, Virgilia (efficiently played by Lindsay Haynes). In the script, she is a retiring person, with only a few lines. That won't do for a production in 2005, so the part has been built up by giving her dialogue borrowed from several other characters.

In Coriolanus, Shakespeare has created a host of memorable small roles that offer opportunities for the rest of the company (Rebecca Ellis, Karen Eske, Jamie Hanna, Lorraine Imwold, Jenny Leopold, Momo Nakamura, John Sadowsky, Heather Whitpan and Wayne Willinger).

Gallanar gives all these minor characters individual personalities, making sure to include a couple of sexy young women. His staging, in keeping with his past productions, is imaginative and detailed. He presents one scene as a TV interview and reinforces his battles with warlike images projected on an upstage screen.

Lorraine Imwold's costumes, dressy for the patricians, grungy for the soldiers and plebeians, create a contemporary feeling. Heidi Busch confines her set to a platform with steps, flanked by banners representing the two armies. Background music, designed by G. Blanston, enhances the moods and the action but tends to obscure the dialogue.

If you buy a ticket for Coriolanus, you won't see classic Shakespeare, but you certainly won't be bored.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents "The Tragedy of Coriolanus," by William Shakespeare, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 19 at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. No one younger than 18 will be admitted. Reservations: 866-811-4111 or www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

High school theater this season


As You Like It. Nov. 17-19, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 20, 3 p.m. 410-313-7065


Guys and Dolls. Nov. 17-18, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 19, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. 410-313-2856.


Fame. Today and tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 2:30 p.m. 410-313-5528.


The Curious Savage. Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m. 410-313-7615.


Plaza Suite. Dec. 16-17, 7 p.m. 410-313-2867.

Long Reach:

Anything Goes. Today and tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. 410-313-7117.

Marriotts Ridge:

Our Miss Brooks. Dec. 9-10, 8 p.m. 410-313-5568.

Mount Hebron:

The Sound of Music. Nov. 16-19, 7 p.m. 410-313-2880.

Oakland Mills:

You Can't Take It With You. Dec. 2-3, 7:30 p.m. 410-313-6945.


Grease. Nov. 17-19, 7:30, Nov. 20, 2 p.m. 410-313-8850.

Wilde Lake:

A Midsummer Night's Dream. Nov. 17-19, 7:30 p.m. 410-313-6965.

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