If you are working your way through the Shakespeare canon via performances — and who isn’t — “Coriolanus” at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is one way to cross off a little-done play receiving a very fine staging. The only problem you may have is with the actual story.
Helmed by longtime STNJ director Brian B. Crowe, “Coriolanus” is one of Shakespeare’s last plays and not among his best. It focus on Caius Marcius, a legendary Roman soldier-turned-politican. Following his brilliance during the successful battle and siege of Coriolis against the Volscian forces — in which he does one-on-one combat with their leader Aufidius — Marcius is given the nickname Coriolanus.
On his return, he is urged by his ambitious mother Volumnia to listen to the advice Menenius Agrippa, a Roman senator, to run for the position of consul, the highest office in the Roman Empire.
After all, if yo are a successful soldier you obviously would make a great politician, right? You obviously see where I’m going with this. Meanwhile, Roman citizens are rioting in the streets because they are not being given shares of the grain in storage and fear going hungry.
The tribunes Brutus (John Adlin) and Volutes (Corey Tasmania) are on the side of the starving people, whom Coriolanus dismisses as undeserving riffraff because they did not serve in the military. Ultimately things go from bad to worse between the haves and have-nots to the point that Coriolanus loses his temper again, lashes out against the plebeians and tribunes and condemns popular rule.
The tribunes label Coriolanus a traitor and banish him from Rome and, in his anger, he banishes them right back. It’s huge. Especially since he runs to Aufidius in the Volscian capital of Antium, where he joins their army and plans to attack Rome. You know. The place where the people didn’t recognize his genius.
An exciting and dynamic first act, “Coriolanus” has a talky and static second act as the Volscians plan their attack and emissaries from Rome, including mom Volumnia (Jacqeline Antaramian), wife Virgilia (Amaia Arana) and friend Menenius (Bruce Cromer) try to reason with Coriolanus to get along with his fellow Romans and return to the fold. Greg Derelian gives a finely nuanced performance as the title character. The final moments are very well-staged, theatrical and worth the wait.
For more info, visit the theater or call 973-408-5600.