BWW Review: Brave Spirits Theatre Presents a Powerful CORIOLANUS
Brave Spirits Theatre again provides a fresh, immediate take on a Shakespearean classic, this time with a hard-hitting production of CORIOLANUS, directed by Charlene V. Smith. Underappreciated compared to many of Shakespeare's other plays, it's particularly timely in 2018 as it explores a power struggle among great men and the masses they're supposed to serve.
The tragedy is based on the life of Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus, played here by a charismatic yet enigmatic John Stange. Caius Marcius is given the nickname "Coriolanus" due to his impressive military victories, including an intense battle against the Volscian leader Tullus Aufidius (Robert Pike, full of rage). But when Coriolanus returns to Rome and attempts to garner support from commoners to win the political position of consul, he discovers his prideful personality is ill-suited for popular leadership. Out of concern, plebeian representatives Sicinius Velutus (Anderson Wells) and Julia Brutus (Diane Curley) conspire against him, as he forms other, dangerous alliances for his benefit.
In usual Brave Spirits fashion, the whole cast is energetic and sells every second of the drama. Ensemble characters are flexible, and each player is a star - Ian Blackwell Rogers brings the comic relief as senator Menenius, and Jessica Lefkow (Coriolanus' mother Volumnia) and Renea Brown (his wife Virgilia) are both the beating heart. The action begins in the lobby, where plebeian riots ignite, and the audience is beckoned into the theatre. It's presented in the round, and we get to sit along the perimeter of the staging area, interspersed with the actors. It's about as intimate as theater gets, as we're often inches away from visceral battles and fiery exchanges. The fight choreography (Casey Kaleba) is impeccable, as there is no room for error or lack of commitment in such a tight space.
The aesthetic of the show is an inspired marriage between modern minimalism and touches of period fashion (costume designer Kristina Martin). Makeup (Briana Manente) ties together beauty and violence with fierce eyes and pronounced cheekbones. My one visual complaint is the bright, harsh lighting. For most of the show it's not that distracting, but from certain angles it can be blinding.
This production of CORIOLANUS is all-around impressive, as it embraces the complexity of a tyrant and the perks and problems of popular rule. It's thought-provoking and open to interpretation, in a good way. It wraps up in a cathartic, satisfying, worthwhile ending.
Running time: approximately 2 hours 30 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission.
Brave Spirits Theatre's CORIOLANUS runs through February 25, 2018, in repertory with THE TROJAN WOMEN PROJECT at the Lab at Convergence, 1819 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by visiting www.bravespiritstheatre.com.
Photo: John Stange as Coriolanus; promotional graphic courtesy of Brave Spirits Theatre website.