×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Shakespeare in the Park Review: ‘Coriolanus’

Jonathan Cake takes on the unforgiving title role in Shakespeare’s rarely seen 'Coriolanus' -- and runs with it to a glorious finish.

With:
Jonathan Cake, Teagle F. Bougere, Jonathan Hadary, Louis Cancelmi, Enid Graham, Kate Burton, Nneka Okafor, Gregory Connors, Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr., Biko Eisen-Martin, Bree Elrod, Christopher Ghaffari, Christopher Ryan Grant, Emeka Guindo, Suzannah Herschkowitz, Thomas Kopache, Tyler La Marr, L’Oreál Lampley, Jack LeGoff, Louis Reyes McWilliams, Max Gordon Moore, Maria Mukuka, Sebastian Roy, Ali Skamangas, Amelia Workman.

2 hours 45 minutes

The title character in “Coriolanus” is one of those Shakespearean heroes you love to hate — or maybe you’re just hating yourself for having warm feelings toward this rather unheroic hero.

For one thing, there’s the “soaring insolence” of his aloof warrior. Coming off a definitive battle that saved Rome from the marauding Volscians, he refuses to pay the customary tribute to the people. “He loves not the common people,” it’s accurately said of this emotionally remote hero.

Then, there’s the uncomfortable matter of his mama’s boy persona. To be sure, Kate Burton makes a commanding figure as the his indomitable mother Volumnia, but still ….  And what are we to make of the great man’s almost eager capitulation to his arch-enemy, Aufidius, impressive though he may be in Louis Cancelmi’s manly performance?

Problematical hero though he may be, Coriolanus is played here by Jonathan Cake, and that makes all the difference in the world. A Shakespearean actor to the manner born, having played canonic figures both here and in London, Cake finds the backbone in this reluctant man of the people and makes his eventual downfall all the more tragic.

For one thing, Cake’s Coriolanus seems a man obviously born out of his time, an impression heightened by director Daniel Sullivan’s unusual attack on this drama, the last of the great tragedies. As established by Beowulf Boritt’s extraordinary set — a hulking contraption of distressed-metal flats — and Kate Voyce’s rag-bag costumes, Coriolanus is a man without a country.  Or, at least, no country known to ordinary Romans.

His ideal habitat, it seems, is the battlefield — any battlefield, at home or abroad, anywhere but in Rome during peacetime.  No man of the people, he stumbles all over himself trying to find a place among the people who neither understand nor welcome him.  (The famous scene of Coriolanus reluctantly stooping down from his noble height to court the “voices” — that is, the votes — of the rabble has a remarkable sense of contemporary discomfort.) No wonder Volumnia fusses over her grown-up boy, and no wonder his wife, Virgilia (Nneka Okafor, wringing her hands), has little to say and less to do with her lord.

If ever there was a hero without a place to lay his weary head, Coriolanus is that hapless hero. Cake understands this man without a country and gives him the only compassion he’ll ever find in the warlike land of his birth.

That much is clear, although whatever else Sullivan had in mind makes no more sense than the physical trappings of the production. Neither primitive nor futuristic, the play feels unmoored, its themes unrelated to any recognizable period, no less our own. In this context, or lack of one, the exiled hero’s longing to find “a world elsewhere” resounds with uncommon desperation at the end of the play.

Wherever he goes, let’s hope he takes the rest of the characters with him, because no one else seems any more comfortable in this nowhere-world they inhabit. To be sure, the gutless tribunes played (very well indeed) by Jonathan Hadary and Enid Graham would be at home in any corrupt administration. And the silver-tongued Menenius Agrippa (played by the silver-tongued Teagle F. Bougere) could survive in any society that thrills to a good speech. But this is no country for old men — or any young men with a passion for politics — and this is a production that is still looking for a place to call home.

Popular on Variety

Shakespeare in the Park Review: 'Coriolanus'

Delacorte Theater; 1800 seats; free. Opened August 5, 2019. Reviewed August 2. Running time: TWO HOURS, 45 MIN.

Production: A Public Theater presentation of a Free Shakespeare in the Park production of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Sets, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, Kaye Voyce; lighting, Japhy Weideman; sound, Jessica Paz; composer, Dan Moses Schreier; hair & wigs, Tom Watson; production stage manager, Michael D. Domue.

Cast: Jonathan Cake, Teagle F. Bougere, Jonathan Hadary, Louis Cancelmi, Enid Graham, Kate Burton, Nneka Okafor, Gregory Connors, Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr., Biko Eisen-Martin, Bree Elrod, Christopher Ghaffari, Christopher Ryan Grant, Emeka Guindo, Suzannah Herschkowitz, Thomas Kopache, Tyler La Marr, L’Oreál Lampley, Jack LeGoff, Louis Reyes McWilliams, Max Gordon Moore, Maria Mukuka, Sebastian Roy, Ali Skamangas, Amelia Workman.

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content