Off-Broadway Shows


Coriolanus Review
More Americans probably know “Coriolanus” from its reference in the “Kiss Me Kate” tune “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” rather than having ever seen this late-era Shakespearean drama. While that ratio will happily change thanks to the Public Theater’s current Shakespeare in the Park outing at the Delacorte Theatre (which will be viewed by approximately 50,000 people before it closes), Daniel Sullivan’s production, for all its merits, also goes a long way towards explaining why the work is so rarely performed in the U.S. (Indeed, the Public’s last two productions were in 1979 and 1988.)

Like many of Shakespeare’s protagonists, from King Lear to Macbeth, the noble if haughty Roman warrior Coriolanus (embodied here by the hunky Jonathan Cake) is undone by pride, ego and stupidity – both his own and others. But his ending (and yes, it’s what you expect) fails to feel particularly tragic or all that interesting. To quote Kander and Ebb, “he had it coming.”

Essentially, Coriolanus is a man whose inability to do anything other than speak his truth, his confusing “humility” (he brags incessantly of his feats but gets mad whenever someone wants to praise him), his outright contempt for the general public, and, above all, his lack of understanding of human nature can make him less than sympathetic. Yes, after triumphing in the war, he doesn’t deserve to be banished from Rome just because he won’t pander to the common folk, but turning his anger on his hometown, plotting to kill even his most beloved friends and family in an act of misguided revenge, hardly endears him to audiences.

And how are we supposed to feel about a grown man who pays scant attention to his loving wife Virgilia (a fine Nneka Okafor, working with nothing) and young son (Emeka Guindo), but hangs on every word uttered by his equally proud, if albeit wiser, mother Volumnia (a fiery Kate Burton, dominating the stage every time she appears)? Moreover, Sullivan doesn’t hint that their relationship is incestuous, or even particularly unseemly; as a result, Coriolanus comes off as just an overgrown “momma’s boy.”

Cake does his utmost to overcome whatever flaws are in the writing of the character. Passion oozes out of every pore and inch of his toned body, and his speech and mannerisms are marvelously nuanced. It's a true tour-de-force performance.

Despite his excellent work, it doesn’t help matters that the play feels ridiculously repetitive, with key points being constantly reiterated. In addition, unlike most of Shakespeare's plays, “Coriolanus” has no real subplots – comic or dramatic – to divert us, nor any supporting characters that seem particularly multi-dimensional (despite the very fine work of such pros as Teagle F. Bougere, Tom Nelis, Jonathan Hadary and Enid Graham). Perhaps the most interesting performance comes from Louis Cancelmi, who appears to add some homoerotic subtext to the role of Coriolanus’ chief enemy-turned-unlikely ally, Tullus Aufidus.

Sullivan could also have opted for a far more appealing visual production. His inspiration seems to be “Mad Max” (in that film, the proletariat is deprived of fuel; in this play, they’re deprived of water). Beowulf Boritt’s junkyard-like set, while cleverer than it first appears, is way too drab for such a lengthy piece and Kaye Voyce’s 1980ish costumes, many in grays and other neutral tones, also do little to delight the eyes.

Intriguingly, given last year’s “Julius Caesar” and the Public’s well-earned reputation for political relevance, first-time viewers of the play might be expecting another Trumpian allegory. But I don’t see it. True, our current commander-in-chief may also despise his constituents, but, unlike Coriolanus, flattery and flim-flammery are Trump’s calling cards, and he’s never done anything even remotely heroic!

In fact, the only real lesson to be learned from this play is to listen to your mother – at least when she gives you really good advice.

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Justin P. Armstrong, Teagle F. Bougere, Kate Burton, Jonathan Cake, Louis Cancelmi, Katharine Chin, Gregory Connors, Darryl Gene Daughtry Jr., Biko Eisen-Martin, Bree Elrod, Nayib Felix, Josiah Gaffney, Chris Ghaffari, Enid Graham, Christopher Ryan Grant, Emeka Guindo, Jonathan Hadary, Suzannah Herschkowitz, Gemma Josephine, Thomas Kopache, Tyler La Marr, L’Oreál Lampley, Jack LeGoff, Alejandra Mangini, Louis Reyes McWilliams, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Nneka Okafor, Donovan Price, Sebastian Roy, Ali Skamangas, Jason Paul Tate, Amelia Workman

Open/Close Dates
Opening 7/16/2019
Closing 8/11/2019

Box Office

Theatre Info
Delacorte Theater
Central Park (81st St & CPW or 79th St & Fifth Av)
New York, NY