BWW Review: Jonathan Cake and Kate Burton Shine in Shakespeare's Political Drama CORIOLANUS
It was forty years ago when Shakespeare in the Park's Delacorte Theater was last invaded by The Bard's CORIOLANUS, but perhaps The Public's politically-minded artistic director Oskar Eustis thought this would be a good time to present a drama about an inexperienced politician who initially gains favor on a wave of populism, only to suffer downfall when his disdain for those outside of his privileged class is exposed.
The title character was inspired by the ancient Roman general Caius Marcius, who was granted the name Coriolanus for his heroism in putting down assorted uprisings. As dramatized by Shakespeare, Coriolanus is urged by his mother, Volumnia, to use his popularity to run for consul. The wealthy men of the senate love him, but the arrogant soldier must also win over the populace.
The major issue of the day is that a grain shortage is causing the poor to starve while the privileged set the price. When two tribunes, Brutus and Sicinius, learn of Coriolanus' sentiment that the less off have no place in making such decisions, they successfully denounce him as an enemy of the people. The shamed soldier then forms an alliance with a former enemy with the purpose of invading Rome.
Director Daniel Sullivan's tense, action-packed and enjoyable production is led by Jonathan Cake, who gives a fierce, powerhouse performance as a brutish, arrogant war hero. A tall, muscular actor with an imposing physique, Cake gives the general a vainglorious strut and a condescending smile, paired with forced enunciation that suggests a bit of an intellectual dullard; one who only knows strength in physical dominance.
Cake shines with fury in fight director Steve Rankin's battle scenes, making his obedient deference to his mother somewhat comical. Appropriately, Kate Burton's Volumnia shines in a different manner. Her subtle control of her son is expressed in small disapproving looks and the crisp, intellectual manner of her voice. But beneath the manipulations, Burton conveys a deep love for her son that eventually, and passionately, conflicts with her regard for her country.
There are many fine performances in the supporting company, including Enid Graham and Jonathan Hadary, wryly humorous as Brutus and Sicinius, Tom Nelis as military commander Cominius and Teagle F. Bougere as Menenius Agrippa, a senator who tries appeasing the rioting masses.
Beowulf Boritt's set is dominated by a fortress assembled from pieces of sheet metal, with an old abandoned car, oil barrels, tires and assorted junk strewn about. Along with Kaye Voyce's eclectic set of rags for costumes and Jessica Paz's eerie sound design, there's the suggestion of a post-apocalyptic future. The grim atmosphere isn't utilized in any way that suggests a theme or a message, but this is a minor quibble for an overall satisfying bit of political intrigue.