Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thursday Night on the Lower East Side: The Drilling Company presents "Coriolanus" at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot on Ludlow and Broome Streets

For the second time this summer, we were happy to be able to be at the opening of The Drilling Company's latest production in Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. The company's premiere of Coriolanus, directed by Hamilton Clancy, was a triumphant and highly relevant interpretation of Shakespeare's corrosive view of Roman democracy in the fifth century B.C.E., a tragedy in which the political process seems every bit as chaotic and poisonous as that of the United States in the twenty-first century C.E.
Using contemporary dress and Roman plebeians who are clearly made to represent the Occupy movement (some wear Guy Fawkes masks), this Coriolanus feels up-to-the-minute in its exploration of how much democracy societies really want and whether a brave, honest and highly competent leader can really govern if he doesn't pander to the fickle public but instead, probably correctly, has contempt for the hoi polloi.
Since we are not real reviewers, we always defer to critics unless we think they're totally off base. Here's Catherine Rampell (a terrific economics reporter) writing in The New York Times:
The new production of “Coriolanus,” Shakespeare’s drama about an election that pits disdainful elites against the 99 percent, would seem to be a perfect fit for both our time and the inherently populist theater series to which it belongs, Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot. (Yes, this Elizabethan tragedy is performed gratis on the pavement of a functioning municipal parking lot, amid cars, trucks and pedestrians ferrying home Chinese takeout.)
The play has even been recast as an Occupy movement tale.
Despite the obvious sympathies of the theater troupe mounting the play, though, here the Occupiers don’t come out looking so good. Which makes this production all the more provocative.
At the start, the commoners — bearing banners declaring “Yes We Shall” and various Occupy slogans — are rioting because Rome’s patricians refuse to distribute stores of corn to the masses.
The rabble places special blame on Caius Marcius, a valiant Roman general who disdains the lower classes.
Soon after, Caius Marcius leads a successful siege of the city of Corioli and is awarded the cognomen of Coriolanus for his efforts. But that decoration is not enough for his ambitious mother, Volumnia (the pushy and hard-bitten Elowyn Castle), the Momma Rose of the Roman military. She persuades her reluctant son to run for consul, Rome’s highest office.
Lacking the common touch, Coriolanus mocks rather than flatters the unwashed masses whose approval he must seek. Further, he adds injury to insult, if you will, in his refusal to flaunt his battle scars for popular inspection.
His enemies then whip the “many-headed multitude” into a revolt that whoops him out of town. Once exiled, Coriolanus exacts his revenge by joining Rome’s enemies in besieging his hometown.
“There is no more mercy in him,” a former friend of the general ominously declares, “than there is milk in a male tiger.”
. . . Arash Mokhtar is usually compelling as the inscrutable, jaw-clenched Coriolanus, though he is much more convincing in the play’s less tender moments. The director, Hamilton Clancy, also keeps the play unusually energized and brisk, which is no small feat for a two-and-a-half-hour intermissionless production.
But somehow the star of the show is still the setting.
Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot has been around since 1996. Yet the pocked concrete and the bugs and the foot traffic seem especially poignant in this particular play at this particular time, given the fresh memories of real mob outrage and unruliness, also staged outdoors, just a couple of miles away.
We'll just add that we especially liked Paul Guskin, whom we'd seen before here, as a dithery Menenius Agrippa, once a stylish pol but now mostly an interrupting irritant; Sara Oliva and Corey Triplett as the Roman tribunes who may remind you of certain ambitious but not thoughtful New York City Councilmembers; and Alana Williams in a variety of roles, all delineated sharply in a few strokes.
we are very grateful we got to be in the audience for Coriolanus tonight.

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