Rather than deviating from the original text, The Old Globe gives an accurate portrayal of Coriolanus by concentrating on the delivery and the heart of the matter. This is a play whose characters are an ugly reflection of our own greed, with one redeeming quality—being flawed.
Celeste Ciulla as Volumnia is cold-hearted and calculated. In a blood-red dress with long black sleeves and a turban-like hat, she grabs hold of and accentuates the most delicious lines, such as, “Had I a dozen sons, each in my love alike and none less dear than thine and my good Marcius, I had rather had eleven die nobly for their country than one voluptuously surfeit out of action.” Perhaps the best is, “Anger’s my meat.” With Volumnia’s mannish behavior, she must control her son Caius Marcius Coriolanus (Greg Derelian) to gain glory. Derelian is a strong, proud Coriolanus who will not succumb to everyone’s desire—especially the plebeians—who is not even close to being a decorated war hero like himself. Though Coriolanus is not exactly likeable, Derelian conjures sympathy because he is a victim of his mother, Volumnia.
Charles Janasz as Menenius quickly becomes an audience favorite. He seems more like a father than a friend to Coriolanus, trying to ease the tensions between Coriolanus and practically everybody else with a bit of sarcasm. Menenius has a good heart, but folly gets the best of him as he seeks glory through his friend.
Another intriguing relationship is that of Coriolanus with his enemy, Aufidius, the Volscian general, portrayed by Brendan Griffin. Aufidius is played with a certain stillness compared to Coriolanus. Banished, Coriolanus has nowhere to turn but to his enemy, and he does so as if it were only a lover’s quarrel. Both are generals who can identify with each other as soldiers, and it’s clear that combat feels familiar and right.
Adding insult to injury, Sicinius Velutus (Grant Goodman) and Junius Brutus (James Newcomb) are just as manipulative as the rest, and amusing as they convince the fickle commoners to not vote Coriolanus into the Senate as the Consul. Seeing Goodman and Newcomb juxtapose in the doorway is reminiscent of Tweedledum and Tweedledee through the looking-glass.
Costume designer Anna R. Oliver has chosen relatable costumes from World Wars I and II. The Volscian soldiers conjure Nazi Germany, while the rest of the cast sports tailored suits with hats, or rags for the commoners.
Paul Mullins’ set design is appropriately sparse. The main stage has an entrance on either side for the homes of Coriolanus and Aufidius, with four red flags in the center signifying the Roman and Volscian camps. Front and center and into the audience lives Rome, filled with citizens and sometimes soldiers. Interestingly, there is a metal-crated opening in the floor for Coriolanus to come through. This hellish pit adds dimension to the stage and engages the audience in one of the many levels of the theatre.
Though Coriolanus reads like a dark tragedy with few likable characters, director Darko Tresnjak takes these seemingly one-dimensional characters, lacking in moral excellence, and unfolds each actor as a study of character. Tresnjak states, “The big theme is integrity, of a character and of the human heart.” Tresnjak gets it. It is the flaws of the individual that make the individual interesting.
Timely, Coriolanus is a small microcosm of today’s political and economic uncertainties and personalities. The plebeians only want grain for a fair price, just like today’s society is crying out for affordable living, lower gas and food prices, healthcare and education, to name a few. Like General Coriolanus, who is surrounded by so many telling him what to do, so is a President advised by his camp. Just as Volumnia can be blamed, in part, for her son’s death, a parallel might be drawn in the modern day when looking at Michael Jackson. It’s a matter of a man who was pushed too hard by a parent to be perfect. He was surrounded by many who were not his friends, and in the end, the parent is partially to blame for at least the birth of his madness. As Tresnjak puts it, “Coriolanus is perhaps the play we deserve these days; it is who we are.”