One-Act Coriolanus

By William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Mervyn Willis
Todd Theatre Troup

Non-union production (Closed)
Reviewed by John Michael Koroly

This mounting by the Todd Theatre Troupe represents half a good idea defeated by the other misguided half. Shakespeare's 1608 tragedy of a Roman patrician's conquest of a Volscian town, his megalomaniacal power grab, and his subsequent assassination is, it has to be asserted, one of the Bard's least effective plays. The phrase ``closet drama,'' denoting a text better read than performed, comes to mind. Director Mervyn Willis clearly sought to jumpstart the work dramatically in shearing it down to a one-act, ninety-minute form. In and of itself, this could have worked. (Orson Welles miniaturized a number of the plays down to this length for his radio show and they were quite good.)

But Willis kneecapped his own production by staging it (along with Richard Stockton Rand) in an ultra-stylized sense of movement that is just a hair's-breadth away from pure modern dance. Worse, putting masks on all but the title character made it virtually impossible to discern who was whom in the action.

To be fair, there were many imaginative and visually arresting physicalizations of concepts here. Particularly gripping were the cast's communicating a sense of an advancing phalanx of an army or Coriolanus's cutting down his enemies like a scythe, even his metaphoric climbing of a ladder. And ballet choreographers from Pettipa to Cranks have synthesized Shakespeare's plays into pure dance. Ironically, Willis would have done much better to have gone more boldly in this direction by eschewing the script altogether, providing a plot synopsis in the program, and made it an evening of undiluted movement.

As it is, the result was movement insufficiently theatrical and theatre too busily moving. Another reason to have dropped the verse entirely was the acting. In general, it had a collegy feel: iambic pentameter rattled off rapidly with reasonably good diction, but with little real sense that the actors understood what they were saying. The result was enthusiasm without precision and a play that felt much, much longer than its actual length. Again, much of the physical production was genuinely striking. Nikita Tkachuk's burlap and leather costumes and mask-strewn set gripped the eye along with Joel Tishcoff's appropriately harsh lighting design. Also memorable were William Norman's compelling electronic score and sound design. Not to beat this to death, but music was continuous throughout the production, further adding to the feeling of a suite for dance.

Ultimately, Willis and the Todd company had a bold idea and failed to follow through on it.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 0
Acting 0
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1995 John Michael Koroly
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