By the book
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Joanne Zipay
Judith Shakespeare Company NYC
The Spoon Theater, 38 West 38
Equity approved showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler
In the program for Judith Shakespeare Company’s ‘“Shakespeare Unplugged” Concert Performance’ of Coriolanus, director Joanne Zipay provided a detailed synopsis of the play, which was very helpful in keeping straight the Volcians and the Romans, as well as the Tribunes, the Patricians and the Plebians. It was also necessary, because while Coriolanus is about some things that are current political currency (economic disparity, self-serving politicians), it also requires a large cast. And although the play is not generally on anyone’s list of top five favorite Shakespeares, Judith deserves credit for jumping wholeheartedly into the pool.
The middle-depth of the pool, actually, as the ‘concert performance’ aspect of the production, was both a help and a hindrance. This was not a staged reading of the Don Juan in Hell variety, with actors at lecterns reading and declaiming the text. Rather, it was actually staged and acted, albeit by a cast each of which held, and read from, a text. Whether this was necessary because of time or other limitations, or was a conscious choice to do it differently, it proved distracting but at the same time it helped guarantee that all of the words would be well spoken. There’s plenty of juice in these words, and as it should, it came more from characters than subject matter.
For although the play begins with talk of poverty and hunger (the discourse on the belly was particularly disquieting), the real subject is power, loyalty, envy, family, class warfare, politics, and survival. But a powerful scene between the Roman Coriolanus (David Huber) and the Volscian Tullus (Richard Lear) would have been far better with these good actors talking to each other (not their books) or to the audience (while referring to their books). The idea of power came through, but the power was diffused. When it was only one character holding forth, the effect was more forceful, as when Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother (a fiercely wonderful Jane Titus), spoke of her son’s wounds – she was real and funny and at the same time pointedly satirical. Other performers who held their own in spite of the ever-present texts were Elizabeth Flax (particularly in a confrontation with Huber), Natasha Yannacanedo, Laurie Bannister-Colon, Tyrone Davis, and Mary Hodges.
Although a ‘concert’, the cast was all dressed in black but each had a color accent – usually red, but occasionally blue – to help identify allegiances, and there were occasional anachronistic props (an iPod) and set pieces (a street-wise conversation between Hodges and Bannnister-Colon which was surprisingly effective). The live percussion score, composed and performed by Brady Miller was often more sound-effects than musical, yet effectively set the tone.
A story this length (Coriolanus ‘Uncut’ perhaps) may be more suited to a mini-series to pay proper homage to all the characters and plot points. In this format, although all the words were there, it could merely be appreciated, not gloriously savored.
Also with Alvin Chan, Oliver Conant, Amy Driesler, Mariah Hernandez, Rachael Hip-Flores, Sheila Joon, Jan-Peter Pedross, Carlos Ponton, Gwenyth Reitz, and Amar Srivastava.
Copyright 2007 by David Mackler
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