A reconstructed production takes liberties with `Coriolanus'

CRITIC'S CORNER

Theater

November 17, 2005|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK | J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The ancient Roman protagonist of Shakespeare's Coriolanus is a leader in desperate need of an image makeover. Judging from its freewheeling, modern-dress production of the play, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company clearly felt the same way about this script.

I am hardly one to object to taking liberties with Shakespeare, and few would claim that Coriolanus is one of the Bard's masterpieces (the two other productions I've seen were also updated). But liberties should contribute to, not detract from, the work. In this case, it wasn't just the opening-night glitches in the video sequences that were at fault.

The play focuses on a Roman military hero, Caius Martius, whose victory at Corioli earns him the name "Coriolanus." His battlefield triumph should also earn him political office at home, but Coriolanus is too arrogant and disdainful of the populace to humble himself for their approval. His close friend and defender, Menenius, urges him to change his image by giving the people what they want. But unwilling and unable to pretend to be something he's not, Coriolanus' behavior proves so offensive, he is banished. And, whether out of spite or because war is all he truly knows and loves, he joins forces with his dire enemy, Aufidius, against Rome.

Director Ian Gallanar opens the play with Coriolanus and his wife Virgilia naked in bed. An odd interpolation, it shows the warrior at his most defenseless and introduces his wife a few scenes earlier than Shakespeare does. Gallanar also enlarges Virgilia's role by giving her many of Menenius' speeches. Lindsay Haynes handles this meatier role admirably.

Still, Coriolanus is a character who needs all the friends he can get, and in this production Menenius himself appears only once, and that's on the video screen. Most peculiarly, Gallanar later reassigns some of Menenius' lines to an actress who appears to be portraying a prostitute.

Aside from the liberties with the script (which include additional speech shuffling as well as some modern profanities tossed into the battle scenes), there's a fundamental problem with actor Patrick Kilpatrick's interpretation of the title role. Kilpatrick looks and acts more like a WWE wrestler than a Roman warrior, and his attitude seems more fed-up than arrogant. He and Christopher Neibling (an appropriately hot-headed Aufidius) co-choreographed the fight scenes. But though Coriolanus is supposedly the better fighter, Neibling's nimble swordsmanship seems far swifter than Kilpatrick's.

Chesapeake Shakespeare describes its approach to Coriolanus as experimental and also warns that because of "adult content: some nudity and extreme violence no one under 18 admitted." Yellow "caution" tape decorates the warning sign in the lobby and there's more of the tape on the set. Would that the company had exercised a little more caution with the play.

Coriolanus continues at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at the Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. $20. Call 866-811-4111 or visit chesa peakeshakespeare.com.

`Morrie' times two

This Tuesday, Baltimoreans can get a double dose of Tuesdays with Morrie. Not only is the play based on Mitch Albom's best-selling book at the Hippodrome Theatre, but as his final Nightline broadcast, Ted Koppel will replay clips from segments he did with the late Brandeis professor, Morrie Schwartz, in 1995. The clips will be interspersed with an interview with Albom.

Koppel reportedly chose to focus his valedictory on the programs with Schwartz - who spoke candidly about his experiences with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known as Lou Gehrig's disease) - because they were among his favorites in Nightline's 26-year history. Nightline airs at 11:35 p.m. on WMAR (Channel 2).

Harris joins `Mame'

Harriet Harris, a 2002 Tony Award winner for Thoroughly Modern Millie, has joined the cast of the revival of Mame starring Christine Baranski, which is scheduled for May 27-July 2 at Washington's Kennedy Center. Harris, who can currently be seen as busybody Felicia Tilman in Desperate Housewives, will portray the title character's friend, Vera Charles, in Mame.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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