From the title character Coriolanus, a noble and great warrior
who despises the lower class, to the two Tribunes, Sicinius Velutus
and Junius Brutus, who serve as the speakers for the voiceless
masses, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of this
Shakespearean tragedy is nearly flawless. The tale of Caius
Martius’ rise to glory, after his single-handed defeat of the
Volscians, his fall into exile, when his contempt is openly
unleashed, and then his near devastation of Rome, his city, could
not have been enacted more beautifully.

Todd Weiser
Courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company

The Shakespeare tale of Roman samurai warriors gets the royal
treatment.

For three hours, the cast suspends the audience in a space
outside of reality, as they tell a story of pride, betrayal, love
and grief. From the first word to the last, the story is not
enacted by actors playing their roles, but rather by actors living
their roles. The lines flow as if new thoughts, as opposed to
recited, and the reactions seem genuine as opposed to rehearsed.
The troupe lives up to their namesake with a truly regal
performance.

Leading the company in this production is Greg Hicks in the role
of Caius Martius, later Coriolanus. Given that the role is one of a
life-long warrior, no one could have performed the role better.
Hicks always makes his presence felt long before speaking a single
word. His posture and walk both bespeak a man born to fight, and
made to lead men into battle. His stance is always one of combat
readiness, and his sword is always at his side.

Coriolanus’ only downfall is his unchecked pride and his
contempt for the commoners, and Hicks brings this aspect to life
brilliantly. The audience is driven to disapprove of his pride, but
compelled to respect his conviction. Although full of scorn for
common folk, Coriolanus is not a man without love. He has friends
that he adores, and a mother, wife and son who he cherishes deeply.
It is this love of his mother and friends that causes him much
anguish and pain, when trying to come to terms with his banishment.
Again, Hicks gives a masterful performance; portraying the internal
struggles of his character in such detail (a clench of the jaw and
a slight trembling while choking back tears, or a tension of the
shoulders released) that one can see the instant when a decision is
made.

Hicks steals the stage with his vivid and colorful portrayal,
but every other performer in the cast is exceptional. Richard
Cordery (Menenius) is the friend that everyone hopes to find, with
a quick wit and the intelligence to know when to use it, and a
cheerful countenance. Chuck Iwuji (Tullus Aufidiuos) is the sworn
enemy of Coriolanus, but is a man stricken with both love and hate
for the warrior he has always aspired to be. Hannah Young
(Virgilia) begins as the quiet, unquestioning wife of Coriolanus,
but she breaks hearts when desperately pleading with her husband to
have mercy on Rome. And playing the other woman in Coriolanus’
life, Alison Fiske is both commanding and maternal, in her
exquisite portrayal of Coriolanus’ mother.

The actors are the ones who transform the story into the living,
breathing masterpiece that it is, but the set, props, costumes,
lighting, sound and special effects add to the plays detailed
intricacy. The lights alter the stage from the soft red haze of the
indoors, to the bluish tint of the night sky. A fog blows on stage
to portray the dustiness of the streets, and the mist of the
battlefield. Finally, the minimalist set, the authentic props and
music and the magnificent costumes, all bring to life the theme of
the Samurai, a warrior trained from childhood to be hard and
without fear, a lifestyle parallel to that of Coriolanus’.

While in residency, the Royal Shakespeare Company will also be
performing “The Merry Wives of Windsor” on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
and Sunday at 1:30 p.m., and “Midnight’s Children” beginning next
Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Comprised of a troupe of superb actors, all
of the three plays are more than worth a night at the theater.

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