Coriolanus, presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the New Theatre, Ashland, Oregon, 26 March-2 November 2008.

Geoff Ridden
University of Winchester

Geoff Ridden. "Coriolanus, presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the New Theatre, Ashland, Oregon.". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 20.1-6 <URL:>.

    Directed by Laird Williamson, Assistant Director Michole Biancosino, Set Design by Richard L Hay, Costume Designs by Deborah M Dryden, Lighting by Robert Peterson, Music composed by Todd Barton, Dramaturg Alan Armstrong, Voice and Text Director David Carey, Fights and Movement by John Sipes and U Jonathan Toppo.

    With U Jonathan Toppo (First Citizen), Richard Elmore (Menenius), Danforth Comins (Coriolanus), James J Peck (Lartius), Bill Geisslinger (Cominius), Demetra Pittman (Sicinius), Rex Young (Brutus), Michael Elich (Aufidius), Christopher Michael Rivera (Adrian), Robynn Rodriguez (Volumnia), Mahira, Kakkar (Virgilia), Sarah Rutan (Valeria), Alexander Barnes and James Edson (Young Martius), Daniel L Haley, Arthur Lazalde (Ensemble, together with rest of the cast, except Danforth Comins). Samuel D Dinkowitz replaced Arthur Lazalde on the night of this review.

  1. Many of Shakespeare’s plays that deal with complex political conflicts can be difficult to read due to the multitude of characters. In Coriolanus, the dramatic tension hinges on the relationship between Coriolanus and his mother, so that the rest of the supporting characters all too frequently blur together. This was not this case with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production, which was an excellent performance of a difficult play, and part of that excellence came from the strength in depth shown by the company.

  2. Coriolanus was last staged at the Festival back in 1996, when it played in the open air at the Elizabethan Theatre. This production was staged at the smallest of the three OSF theatres, the New Theatre, which is also the most flexible space available, and had a very different conception. I wonder whether that 1996 production played to full houses – on the night when I saw the current production it was far from full, even allowing for the fact that I saw it early in the season, scarce a week into its run.

  3. The play was performed in the round, and the crates and placards in the centre announced, even before a word was spoken, that this was to be a production with a modern setting. The contest for power was played out between guerilla citizens, politicians in suits, and two uniformed armies. This led to some pleasing touches, especially with the politicians: they had cell phones, laptops and bottled water on their desks. When in Act Two Scene One, Menenius tells the tribunes that "The augurer tells me we shall have news to-night" (I.ii.1), he was reading a message on his cell-phone. Young Martius played on a gameboy in I.iii, and the guerilla citizens really did have bats and clubs in the opening scene. The cell phone augury raised a laugh, which might be considered cheap, but the low point came with the reference to monstrous members (II.iii.12-13), when the speaker caressed a phallic-looking microphone. Enough already!

  4. There were problems and advantages in staging this production in the round. Just occasionally a line or a gesture was lost to one part of the audience. However, the relatively small cast was able to expand its size by placing the audience in the role of the people: we became the Senate at times, as we were addressed by character seated at desks, using microphones in the style of the United Nations, notably in II.ii.

    The cast and audience were in close proximity (sometimes an actor stood beside you and sought your reaction). This sort of intimacy worked splendidly in the interchanges between Coriolanus and Volumina, and even the death of Coriolanus was exceptionally well-staged, up close and personal. Coriolanus did indeed have scars on his body, plain to see, and the battle in the first act was realistic enough to plainly terrify some members of the audience: at least two were glad that the house was not full, so that they could retire from the heat of the front row. The set design seemed to promise a bare stage and little else, but in fact made skilful use of two of the exits (transformed into battlements) and of the walls of the theatre itself which were lit in different hues from scene to scene. My only quibble with the design and staging was in I.iii when there seemed to be a target of Coriolanus on stage: in fact, it was a diagram of the positions of his wounds and scars, but I am afraid it did not work for me.

  5. This production had an excellent Coriolanus in Danforth Comins, who looked youthful enough to be a son as well as a warrior, and who grew in stature as the play went on. Robyn Rodriguez as Volumnia was virtually flawless. Her speaking of this line in I iii was a revelation, and typical of her insight;

    I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child
    Than now in first seeing he had prov’d himself a
    Man. (15-17)

    She put the emphasis on ‘man-child …. proved himself a man’ and I am now convinced that that is how it should be.

  6. But this was not a production in which the responsibility fell solely on two actors alone. This was my third OSF production in as many weeks, and I marvel at the stamina not only of those members of the audience who fit in five plays in three days, but the even greater stamina of the cast who are frequently acting in more than one play on consecutive days.

    In this production, I saw three actors who are also in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and what energy they brought to this production. I have never seen a poor performance from Michael Elich (Theseus in The Dream), and, as Aufidius, he lit up the stage and commanded it every time he walked on. Richard Elmore (Starveling in The Dream) was, as Menenius, the consummate politician, and his interaction with the two tribunes recalled the much-missed West Wing. Christopher Michael Rivera (Demetrius in The Dream) was quite outstanding as Adrian. Add to that the versatility of U. Jonathan Toppo (Quince in The Dream), not only as First Citizen but also as a member of the ensemble (even his baldness became a joke in II iii) and you may have a sense of the depth of experience available in this cast.

  7. Works Cited

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© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).