A precious two ‘Coriolanus’ performances remain
By Charlene Baldridge
San Diego theatergoers have a rare opportunity to see a seldom-performed Shakespeare tragedy during this summer’s Old Globe Shakespeare Festival. Written in 1608, “Coriolanus” has not been seen hereabouts since 1988. Now the opportunities have dwindled to a precious two, Wednesday, Sept. 23 and Friday, Sept. 25.
The late Canadian-Hungarian director John Hirsch’s renowned 1988 Old Globe production, set in modern times and surrounded with live television images of the performance, received national press and was much copied worldwide. It was Hirsch’s first and last directorial assignment at the Old Globe. He died the following year of AIDS.
Playing in the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, this season’s “Coriolanus” is the parting assignment of Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak, whose staging of Shakespeare and others began with an astonishing outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “Pericles Prince of Tyre” (2003) established the young Yugoslavia-born director at the Old Globe. Tresnjak, who recently announced his departure effective September 1, also directed this season’s production of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac.” His leaving is a great loss for the Old Globe and the city.
That is all the more reason to see “Coriolanus” before it, too, becomes ephemera. According to Tresnjak, Shakespeare didn’t create perfect characters because they don’t make for good drama or conflict. For his imperfect Coriolanus, he chose Greg Derelian, a classically trained New York-based actor with whom he’s worked in the past. A major hunk, Derelian has acting power as well in the role of a Roman soldier urged by Volumnia, his mother (Celeste Ciulla in one of Shakespeare’s most indelible female roles) to enter politics by becoming a tribune. Coriolanus, victorious in battle, has few people skills. He barely disguises disdain for the populace, and certain tribunes (Grant Goodman and James Newcomb) fearful of his power and popularity make it their objective to bring him down. Eventually, Coriolanus is declared a traitor and sentenced to death, so he flees to the enemy camp of Tullus Aufidius, whom he once defeated in hand-to-hand combat and subsequently spared. The two conspire to attack Rome together and seem to share a deep bond of camaraderie. When Coriolanus is persuaded to broker peace between the Volscians and Rome, Aufidius slays him, and what was to have been Coriolanus’ triumphant return as peacemaker becomes his funeral.
Tresnjak stages this difficult work with the genius for spectacle that is so emblematic of his work. The final scene sears itself into one’s theatrical memory as do the performances of Derelian, Ciulla and Old Globe Associate Artist Charles Janascz as Coriolanus’ trusted advisor, Menenius. As for spectacle, Ralph Funicello creates a spare set with design elements suggestive of Rome during the rise of fascism; Anna R. Oliver’s costumes, military and civilian, are splendid; and Christopher R. Walker’s music is subtle and alarming. Lighting is by York Kennedy.
“Coriolanus” completes its Shakespeare Festival engagement with the performances noted above, playing in rotating repertory with “Cyrano” (closing the festival September 27) and Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night” (closing the festival September 26). Curtain is 8 p.m. at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, Old Globe, Balboa Park.
For details go to www.theoldglobe.org/calendar/index.aspx. For tickets, visit www.theoldglobe.com or phone (619) 23-globe.