Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s many tragedies. It’s unfortunate that these classic plays are put on less and less. I’m filled with joy when I hear of a theatre, however small, that is putting up a Shakespeare play. I was excited to be assigned to review Such Stuff Productions’ Coriolanus, playing at the Canyon Rim Park Amphitheater.
For those who are unfamiliar, Coriolanus is the story of a Roman captain named Caius Marcius (played by Elias Gerber) who seizes a Volscian city and is praised as a hero of the Roman empire. Unfortunately, he isn’t quite as popular with the Roman citizens, who blame him for shortages of grain. After some prodding by his senator friend (played by Christopher-Alan Pederson) and his cunning mother (played by Maggie Freeman), Marcius runs for and is elected as Consul.
Hardly free from enemies, he is eventually banished by tribunes Brutus and Velutus (played by Kaltin Kirby and Krystal Lynn Funk, respectively) and travels to ally himself with an old enemy (played by Travis J. Scott).
Such Stuff’s concept of Coriolanus was one reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of “Romeo + Juliet”, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. It was set in a more modern setting, using modern military and the American Senate to represent its Roman counterparts. For most of the production, this motif was intriguing and fit this particular Shakespearean play better than it would most.
Unfortunately, the wonderful concept was mired by hokey combat and distracting music, which only served to pull the audience out of the world of the play each time we were getting drawn into Marcius’ plight. It repeatedly went from good Shakespeare to the imaginary fights you might see during elementary school recess. Luckily, the goofy fight scenes were few and far between.
When the focus was on the story and the performers, we got to see some quality performances. In a very unique and comic take on the role, Christopher-Alan Pederson played a charming, if slightly cowardly senator with the best of intentions for his friend. Playing the part as cautious and fearful made for a powerful moment near the end, when the senator Menenius finally took a stand against his enemies.
Another performer that really stole her scenes was Maggie Freeman, playing the conniving and manipulative mother, also bringing moments of maternal instincts when she berates the tribunes after her son has been banished. Her presence on stage commanded attention whenever she appeared. Freeman also blended Shakespearean acting and dialogue with the modern interpretation very well.
The difficulty came in handing the reigns of an entire Shakespearean tragedy to such a young actor as Elias Gerber. Bringing some needed humor to the dark role of Marcius, Gerber was unable to maintain throughout the play. At times, it seemed as though Marcius was more schizophrenic than emotional and prone to anger. He would slip too quickly from feelings of loyalty and responsibility to fits of rage, seeming as though he should occasionally cry out, “Hulk Smash!” Aside for some brief moments of inconsistent acting, Gerber handled the responsibility of playing such a layered character very well for an actor of his age. I would like to see him play more comedic roles, as he displayed a natural knack for humor.
As is the case with most community theatre, there were strong performers and some weak performers. All in all, I would suggest you venture out to Canyon Rim park this week to support this group of young and budding actors, as well as the charity all the proceeds are going to: Letters to Soldiers. I would also give my support to what Such Stuff Productions is trying to do, by bringing Shakespeare back into our society. Flaws and difficulties aside, I applaud them for putting on an entertaining production of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.
Just nix the band next time, please.
Such Stuff Productions presents William Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” August 8-11 at 7 pm at Canyon Rim Park Amphitheatre (3100 S. 2900 E.) Admission is pay what you can, but all proceeds from the show benifit the local charity Letters to Soldiers.