Coriolanus in a basement studio this month
There's an uneasy tension in the shadows of Voices Found Repertory's staging of Coriolanus. Shakespeare's tale of a politician refusing to recognize the authority of the people makes it to a local stage at a strange time in national politics. One of the two most likely candidates for U.S. presidency has childishly refused to say whether or not he'd concede victory to his opponent even if he loses the election. The toxic political background resonates through a story of a war hero who gains political power only to scoff at those willing to hand him that power. Minimal set and contemporary costuming mix with aggressive rock score reverberating through the background. The explosions of aggression which punctuate the plot tangle their way across a very small studio theater space in a basement downtown.
Nick Hurtgen is a dark and restless figure in the title role. His fiery sense of authority is tempered and his performance by a sense of edgy vulnerability that makes for very complex portrayal. There’s depth to the character and his reluctance to deal with people who banish him. The brutal story plays out in brute simplicity that is harnessed entertaining effect by director Andy Montano. The dramatic intensity of the production may not always live up to the script, but there’s more than enough here to make for a fun trip to a basement theatre downtown.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the production is the evenly weighted casting between men and women. The world that Montano and company render onstage has a really aesthetically appealing gender equality about it. The lithe Wren Du Vernois makes for a very compassionate Sicinius. Historically male, Sicinius is instrumental in getting Coriolanus exiled. Du Vernois brings the precision of clever compassion to the stage which serves as a compelling counterpoint to Hurtgen’s brutish dominance.
The balance of men and women in the cast extends to the fight scenes. Men and women fight as equals. This lends a nicely textured visual dynamic to the action. They made some fun choices with the action. I loved the twin axes of Tawnie Thompson. Shakespeare can be so dominated by swordplay, it’s nice to see a stoutly diminutive warrior swinging axes in the action. Thompson has done a sharp job of fight directing the show with Alec Lachman. The battles place a distinctive stamp on a rare staging of Shakespeare that feels just a bit more satisfying aesthetically than it does in depth and complexity of plot. Shakespeare didn't write this one for intricacy. This production proves it can be no less enjoyable than Shakespeare's truly sophisticated stuff.
Voices Found's production of Coriolanus runs through Oct. 30 in the Arcade Theatre on Wisconsin Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Voices Found online. Fun behind-the-scenes videos can be seen on Voices Found's Facebook page.