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BWW Reviews: Electrifying and Unplugged: CORIOLANUS (Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company)

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BWW Reviews: Electrifying and Unplugged: CORIOLANUS (Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company)

Based upon the legendary Roman general, Caius Martius, later called Coriolanus, William Shakespeare's play, Coriolanus, tells the story of a man whose excessive hubris leads to banishment from his country, and a bloody downfall.

The ancient city-state of Rome is in an uproar. The common people are starving, and threatening violence to the upper class, particularly to Caius Martius (Chaz Bratton) who they name as "a dog to the commonality". At the same time, the leaders and nobility of Rome are preparing for war, including the great general Cominius (Kyle Westmaas), Titus Lartius (Sean Kelley) and Martius himself. In the course of the battle between Rome and Corioli, Martius, already a great soldier, outdoes all his former glories by storming the city gates alone, rallying his terrified and fleeing troops to victory, and facing down his nemesis, Tullus Aufidius (Scott Lange) while masked in the blood of his countrymen. He is given the surname Coriolanus by the Romans, in honor.

The newly named Caius Martius Coriolanus faces an entirely different kind of war when he returns home, however; one that he is entirely unprepared for. The Senate, along with his friends and family, including his Mother, the ambitious and formidable Volumnia (Kathleen Bode), move to make him Consul, a Roman political leader, but the elected Tribunes of the people are working to bring him down from within by skillfully manipulating the public voice. Domineering and easy to offend, and baited by the Tribunes, Coriolanus cannot maintain the image of groveling political correctness in the face of the "boils and plagues", insulting the common people at every turn in a proto-Fascist outburst, and is banished as a traitor. Coriolanus makes his way to the city of Antium, where he joins forces with his former enemy, Aufidius, and returns to make war upon Rome, where he must make the heart-breaking decision whether to remain loyal to his new allies, or to save those he loves at the cost of his own life.

Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, based in Grand Haven, Michigan, produces shows in conditions similar to how they would be used in Shakespeare's time, introducing a note of authenticity not seen in other groups. Some of these practices include thrust-staging, with the audience on three sides of the performance space, universal lighting, meaning the audience is in same light as the actors, cast-doubling, where each cast member plays multiple roles, and engaging in audience contact, breaking the fourth wall to make the audience a part of the performance. Visiting director Dennis Henry, says, "Original practices productions, by using the staging conditions for which Shakespeare was writing, put the focus on the language, which is the key to a successful staging of a Shakespeare play. Too often, technology becomes an end in itself and the magic of the language becomes an afterthought." In this spirit, the sole effects in this show emphasize realism, with the use of trumpets and drums in military salute. Minimalism in costuming and set lends importance to the language and the acting, both of which are done expertly.

Although classified as a Shakespearean tragedy, there is a great deal of humor in the physical comedy and language of Coriolanus, not to mention the plethora of fantastic Shakespearean insults. "All the great tragedies have amazing, surprising humor in them, even in dark situations. He was ahead of Quentin Tarantino by 400 years. This cast has not shied away from the humor and the result is a show that is intense and fun," says Henry. The choice of live music performed by the ensemble, as is often done by Pigeon Creek productions, is also excellent, including Danzig's "Mother", Love and Rockets' "No New Tale to Tell" and 10,000 Maniacs' "These are Days". The story is both appalling and moving, and highly relevant to today's American cultural and political climate, which brings an added level of depth to the story.

Chaz Bratton is rock-solid in the title role, bringing to life a character that is complex and sympathetic in spite of his prejudices and flaws, and the ensemble is extraordinary, each portraying several characters to great success. Caius Martius is like the rock star of ancient Rome: brave, proud, and spectacular to behold when he is storming the walls of Corioli, or brandishing a sword and dagger in pitched battle. However, that same rock star, when you meet him in person, is egotistical, conceited, and looks down upon those who raised him up with barely concealed disgust. He's the celebrity that you love to hate, and as much as you enjoy his fall from grace, you mourn for him when he lands at rock-bottom.

Directed by Dennis Henry, Music Direction by Scott Lange, Fight Direction by Steven Schwall and Scott Wright; Coriolanus will be taking place June 20-21 and June 26-28 at 8:00 p.m., June 22 and 29 at 3:00 p.m. at Dog Story Theater, 7 Jefferson SE Grand Rapids, MI. Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for students and seniors. For tickets, visit www.dogstorytheater.com; On July 13 at 7:30 p.m. it will be performed at Creative 360, 1517 Bayliss St Midland, MI 48640. Please call for ticket information: (989) 837-1885; July 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Seven Steps Up, 116 South Jackson Spring Lake, MI; July 26 at 7:30 p.m. at The Box Factory for the Arts, 1101 Broad St, St Joseph, MI 49085; Please call for ticket information: (269) 983-3688; Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for students and seniors. For tickets, call the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company at 616-850-0916.

WITH: Kathleen Bode (Volumnia/Ensemble), Chaz Bratton (Caius Marcius Coriolanus), Antonio Copeland (Sicinius/Ensemble), Kat Hermes (Brutus/Ensemble), Sean Kelley (Titus Lartius/Ensemble), Scott Lange (Tullus Aufidius/Ensemble), Owen McIntee (Young Marcius/Ensemble), Sarah Tryon (Virgilia/Ensemble), Kate Tubbs (Valeria/Ensemble), Kyle Westmaas (Cominius/Ensemble), and Scott Wright (Menenius/Ensemble).

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