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Coriolanus, From Stage to Screen

Why Shakespeare’s antihero is making a comeback this month.

By Laura Dannen January 23, 2012

Photo courtesy John Ulman.

Tullus Aufidius (Mike Dooly) and Coriolanus (David Drummond) face off in Seattle Shakespeare’s Coriolanus.

The set of Seattle Shakespeare’s Coriolanus looks so…familiar. The graffitied walls, the placards carrying the voice of Rome’s 99 percent: “We Are the City.” “We Are Rome.” It seems Occupy Rome has set up camp at Center House Theatre. And despite this being a 17th-century tragedy, the demands aren’t that different: We need corn. We’re hungry. We need help. Why are the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer?

The timing couldn’t be better to stage one of the Bard’s most overtly political pieces, written in the same period he completed heavy hitters Macbeth and King Lear, but just as timely during the 2012 election season. Shakespeare makes a statement about the growing divide between Plebeians and politicians, and at the story’s center is an antihero for the 21st century. Caius Martius Coriolanus, a Roman general and lifelong soldier, is a god on the battlefield who can’t make the transition to city living once the war is over. When he doesn’t fit in neatly as a Senator (he actually says what he means!), he’s cast out as a traitor. It’s a cautionary tale about how we treat our returning veterans—and there are none so misunderstood as Coriolanus.

In Seattle Shakespeare’s production, David Drummond is a hulking presence as the war hero: clean-shorn and fearsome as he towers over the rest of the cast, eyes bulging as he chews out the Roman citizenry like they’re the greenest of recruits. It’s a tremendous performance, and an excellent primer for anyone considering seeing Ralph Fiennes’s silver-screen update of the tragedy (out February 3). After spending the past decade frightening children as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Fiennes risks being typecast as a villain in his next few projects; but Coriolanus is the perfect transition role. He can scowl, sneer, and shove a knife at anyone he wants—and we can still root for the one honest guy in the Senate.

Thru Jan 29, Center House Theatre

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