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Coriolanus at Warehouse Theater Next Door

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, 7/12, 2 pm
Sunday, 7/20, 2 pm
Saturday, 7/26, 7:30 pm

They say: “In the Rude Mechanicals’ Coriolanus – Man of the People by William Shakespeare, the seldom-performed play is reinterpreted (and trimmed) for a modern audience into a sharp satire about politics and politicians. No establishment is left unlampooned, from the politicians, lobbyists and media – to the followers they manipulate.”

Chris’s take: In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck derisively labels the amateur actors rehearsing to perform for Theseus “a crew of patches, rude mechanicals,” which is to say a bunch of clownish, ignorant workingmen. The plentiful small theater companies that name themselves the “Rude Mechanicals” probably do so recalling the pleasant mayhem of Pyramus and Thisby, and overlooking the mechanicals’ sheer theatrical ineptitude.

The Laurel-based Rude Mechanicals bill their production of Coriolanus as “A Contemporary Satire by William Shakespeare.” Hmm. The thing about satires is that they ridicule institutions and individuals, and that they’re funny. The impulse behind this production was evidently to use Coriolanus to poke fun at the Bush administration. Thus, the citizens up in arms over corn prices carry placards with suspiciously contemporary slogans such as “No Blood for Corn”; Coriolanus speaks in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner; and naturally there are color-coded threat indicators. Sadly, this is the full extent of the “contemporary satire,” which is neither particularly insightful nor apt.

By inference, the director has come up with one gimmick (set the play in the present day) and in so doing didn’t bother to stage the play in a way that genuinely offers an interpretation of the story. In other words, through thoughtful direction, the production might have conveyed that because they blow with the wind, it’s actually the fickle citizens who are most responsible for the political meltdown, or it might have conveyed that Coriolanus is a man genuinely reluctant to pursue power who finds himself in a situation he could not have imagined, or even that he is genuinely a tyrant who deserves his death.

Instead, what we mostly get is an hour and 20 minutes of actors saying their lines, and making their entrances and exits. There are worse things, but there are better things too.

The acting is uneven. Alan Duda plays Coriolanus with military stoicism (think Vladimir Putin with more hair) but without any enlightening nuance. The finest actor, the one whose words flow trippingly on the tongue, is Mike Galizia as patrician Menenius Agrippa. Some of the actors in lesser roles are genuinely miserable. The staging is extremely minimal, which in itself is not a complaint. What is a complaint–and perhaps not the company’s fault–is that the stage creaks constantly, a palpable distraction.

The production ultimately comes across not as a satire, but as an accidental stage adaptation of a late-night, cable B-movie. There are lots of guys wearing fatigues and berets, explosions (if you can call bursts from a fog machine explosions, that is), guns (plastic, of course, and proportioned for children rather than adult actors), gunfire (recorded sound effects), and cheesy synthesized underscoring. As with the original mechanicals, the effect achieved is something other than the effect intended.

See it if: You are a Shakespeare enthusiast. Productions of Coriolanus just don’t come along every day.

Skip it if: You thought this would be played as satire.