Coriolanus- Blood, Sweat and Tears
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
Look out for Cohesion Theatre Company. These new kids just secured themselves a semi-permanent location in the Highlandtown Arts & Entertainment district (the largest AED in Maryland, who knew?!). They went from producing a single show, Edward II, just a few months ago, to securing non-profit status, a suitable location, a following, and an entire season of performances.
They are bulldozers. Get of of the way or get behind the wheel.
And it’s great. It is great that a company of such fresh initiative is garnering such acclaim and respect. They aren’t babes in the woods when it comes to the stage or arts administration, though: founding co-producers Brad Norris (manager of Center Stage’s events program) and Alicia Stanley (who has worked with several local companies in several theatrical capacities) have clearly done all this before.
Their new space at 413 south Conklin street was at one time a storefront church, part of the Latino community. The facade is simple and glass. The interior is large and open, semi-divided to make a gallery, lobby, and reception space. The theatre proper is a big room with the appropriate layout of seating-to-performance area. All the white surfaces could have used some color, and that drop-ceiling was killing me, but other than that, this space totally works as a flexible studio-style performance venue. Cohesion has found a gem, now give them some money for a lighting grid and some black paint (not to mention your volunteer time wielding a wrench and manning a paint roller). The season that Cohesion has put together includes Coriolanus, 13 Dead Husbands, and The Pillow Book. Let’s not poo-poo their number of plays, three is a feat unto itself in this audience barren city. Cohesion’s co-producers say “classic and contemporary works compliment each other” and I support that semi-sappy sentiment. But I wonder if they would not have been better served picking a more congruent collection of works for their first foray into the breach. Delving into their first show of the season, Coriolanus, I’m simultaneously rooting for them like a caffeinated cheerleader and deeply worried. Perhaps it’s the stage mom in me coming out to eulogize everybody’s perpetual success. Cohesion’s production has some challenges, but it also does well in other departments, so here we go:
I never really understood the story of Coriolanus so I’m coming at this production a co-anus virgin. It’s a difficult play just of itself. The story and themes are not very universal and the characters seem more like two dimensional caricatures than actual living, breathing presences. There are commoners, and corn, and soldiers who hate the commoners and royalty and lots and lots of fighting. First and foremost, CHEERS to Cohesion for two hour Shakespeare, but there was one big problem – many of the actors said their lines so fast and with so little emotion that they just looked relieved to get the words out. Pacing was a big issue. Some performers delivered lines appropriately but most soared through too quickly. You can make a two hour show out of Shakespeare, but that doesn’t mean speed read, it means make cuts! What is great, though, about Cohesion’s execution of this production is that I was able to feel realness out of a few of the main roles. I really enjoyed Nancy Linden’s well paced, well timed, thoughtful (and at times, heartbreaking) Volumina. She plays Coriolanus’ mother like a long and slow lament on solo violin. Sean James did an wonderful job bringing some well-paced and low tones to the vocal range. His Brutus was sinister and at times funny. I’d let him read me the phonebook. Matt Ancarrow delivered the confidence and pacing a good Shakespearean actor should deliver. As Aufidius, his end-scene betrayal was believable and thrilling and damned sexy too! Dave LaSalle, playing the title role of Coriolanus, should be checked into Over Actors Anonymous. This sounds harsh, but hear me out. This title role is challenging, and I totally get that this Coriolanus guy is at times otherworldly in his anger but there were several things I had issues with regarding this character as it was developed and directed. The accent or voice affect he was doing was inconsistent and made it difficult to understand the text. The “face contorting” thing was great, but should have been limited to a few times and had more emotional purpose. Angry-bitch-face doesn’t work for two hours. The rage was over done. Anger can be subtle as well as physical and all-encompassing. Find a good balance between those two manifestations and you’ve got it in the bag. What I loved, though, about watching LaSalle on stage was the brutish physicality in his fight scenes. He gave it balls-to-the-walls, took the combat to another level AND he was another damned sexy beast on this stage. The fight choreography, however, was inconsistent. I could tell that some performers were far more comfortable with stage combat and weaponry than others. Some of the background players looked like they were wielding blow-torches instead of knives; they seemed utterly terrified at the implement they were carrying.
Coriolanus was staged in a three-quarter deep thrust configuration which was very brave. Shakespeare is a bitch to block. Director Alicia Stanley used the space well, focused poignant moments accordingly, and kept the physical movement from stagnation (though it did, perhaps, lack a cohesive stage picture). The set, lighting, and costumes did not come together to create a symbiotic environment. The lighting (Lana Riggins) was effective but not especially emotional or motivated – I’m sure this was the result of available equipment, rigging positions, and power. The space is not (yet) a fully tricked-out theatre and Lana did great with what she had to use. I’m so very happy that I was able to finally see the faces of the performers and action for a change. More Baltimore LD’s need to understand that you need to be able to actually SEE THE SHOW. The set (Cassandra Dutt) did not read as a city square to me. Perhaps more like the back alley behind a department store? The graffiti covering every possible surface did not do anything to support the story or location of the show. The large amalgamation of rustic pallets creating a city wall was cool when the gates opened up, but otherwise looked like a cost-savings measure. The costumes (Heather Johnston) looked beautifully crafted with a strange nod to traditional Shakespeare garb via Banana Republic. All together, the three visual disciplines could have used a clearer common vision of the production as a whole.
The Bottom Line: Overall, considering the talent at hand, I had hoped for a lot more. I am, however, so proud of this company for going bold and putting together something so very ambitious (and not falling flat on their face). Is there room to improve here? Sure. Is it also valuable, fantastic, brave and needed? Yes! Go see this show to hear Sean James’s sultry tones lull you into a false sense of security and Nancy Linden’s motherly tenderness pull your heartstrings. Go see this show to watch two (very) hot dudes fight it out on stage. Go see this show to experience the step above DIY theatre in Baltimore. Go see this show because of Cohesion’s mission of theatrical togetherness. Be a part of that shit. It’s the ticket.
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