BWW Review: All-Women CORIOLANUS: FIGHT LIKE A BITCH at 12th Ave Arts Kicks Ass
Rebel Kat did such a good job with the adaptation of "Coriolanus" (one of Shakespeare's rarely performed later works) that it does not feel like an adaptation at all. Nay, director Emily Penick improves upon the original with a fierce cast consisting entirely of women. What's more, "Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch" has all of the pronouns switched so that the actors performing in the show get to play female characters. Unlike Shakespeare's "Coriolanus", which, ultimately, is a play about high-ranking men clawing and back-stabbing their way to attain political power (boring!), "Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch" flips the script on a gendered political system. Finally, women get to be power-hungry monsters!
Both the original and this updated "Coriolanus" take place in Ancient Rome, focusing on a military general achieving notoriety by being a war hero, which, of course, makes him eligible to hold political office. Caius Martius (Nike Imoru) is insolent, disparages the lower class, and uses fear to gain power. Nonetheless, she effortlessly gains the support of the Roman Senate, and briefly the common people she openly dislikes. Not surprisingly, it takes very little for the public to turn against Martius, revealing how little she thinks of popular rule. Tribunes call her out, saying that she's a traitor for using such foul language against the people of Rome. Martius is banished from Rome, and joins forces with her nemesis Aufidius from the Volscian capitol of Antium to destroy Rome.
There are some moments where the narrative doesn't quite fit with the all-female upgrade. For one, Caius Martius is a blatantly incompetent leader, and yet is feared by his enemies when given a position of power. Martius has no political savvy, charisma, or clout. So why do the people cower at the thought of Martius' leadership? They cower because Martius is a macho bully with a fragile ego and brute strength. It's odd to see so much toxic masculinity in a female character, especially when those negative characteristics are ultimately advantageous.
There is one standout performances in Rebel Kat's all female "Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch": one is Wendy Robie, an actress familiar by many for playing Nadine in "Twin Peaks". Especially here in the Pacific Northwest, "Twin Peaks" is tremendously popular, so to see a cultural icon (though niche, still an icon) perform on stage, and she does so so beautifully. She gets to show off her range in "Coriolanus" as Caius Martius' mother, Volumnia, bringing grace and pep to the sage character. It was an off night for the talented Nike Imoru, who unfortunately stumbled over a number of her lines. As the titular character, this makes the extension of disbelief very difficult. If the character at the center of the action keeps tripping over their words, the actor behind the character becomes quite conspicuous, taking audiences out of the moment completely. Imoru is clearly talented, so opening night may have just been (and hopefully was) a fluke. Imoru carries herself with professionalism, so it's a shame for such a fixable problem to make her seem unprepared.
And that's not to say that the rest of the cast was lukewarm. This is a tour-de-force collective. For Kate Witt, Shakespearean language seems to come naturally. Her Menenius was sarcastic, exasperated, and hysterical. Judith Shahn's Cominius handled every situation with poise. Colleen Carey brings warmth and depth to Martius' nemesis Aufidius. Yadira Duarte's Brutus has great chemistry with her counterpart, Sicinius (played by Katherine Jett). Amanda Rae's Lieutenant is severe, loyal, and not to be messed with.
It becomes painfully obvious how insultingly small and one-dimensional the role of Virgilia was in the original script. There are two characters whose gender was not changed for the adaptation: Virgilia, the wife, and Volumnia, the mother. "Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch" keeps Virgilia's gender the same as the original, so her role as Martius' weepy wife does not change. Virgilia serves as a stark reminder of what limited opportunities women in theater were given. As Virgilia, Simone Bruyere Fraser has to stay sad the whole show, and she does so with aplomb.
All of the action takes place on a runway, and there is definitely action in this show. Lighting designer Andrew D. Smith use of bold, solid color schemes and geometric shadows are so effective in their simplicity. The lighting marries brilliantly with the bold yet sparse audio effects (by Sound Designers Sharath Patel and Josh Schmidt), creating a congruous union of light and sound. Nova Dobrev's costumes range from modern business professional to bejeweled warrior queen, and are all very chic.
"Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch" is a cool show that may have had an off opening night. Unfortunately, that's the performance up for review, so I give Rebel Kat's "Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch" a site-specific B, and is still a show worth seeing. This is an A show, and its largest flaw may have already fixed itself.
"Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch" performs at 12th Ave Arts through November 18, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.rebelkat.net.