Bloomsday – 2001 (June 16) review by Frances Benn Hall.
Ever since 1941, when Merce Cunningham gave me my first copy of Ulysses, I have celebrated Bloomsday. On June 16, 200l, my Irish luck placed me at the gala opening of Coriolanus in the new Founders’ Theatre at Shakespeare and Co. in Lenox, Mass.
Would that James Joyce and Stephen Daedalus could have shared my compact yet spacious box overlooking the stage, could have walked with me on the terrace at intermission, and that we could have toasted each other with champagne in the vaulted lobby at midnight.
The talented and indomitable Tina Packer has done it again. This production of Coriolanus, now running in the Elizabethan space carved miraculously from a former gymnasium, not only bent to her directorial skills but soared into history. June l6 long will be remembered by the enthusiastic audience fortunate enough to have shared this important moment.
Coriolanus last season in the Stables was hailed as one of the best in the company’s long history. The current Coriolanus, making dynamic use of the unusual possibilities the new theatre affords – with its boxes encircling the stage – brings spectators near the actors in intimate involvement and allows the director to use levels to enhance the stage picture and visually enrich the plot.
The balconies on four sides of the stage and the cushioned benches in the pit, flanked by wide aisles, not only bring the audience closer but permit the actors to perform on multiple levels.
Shakespeare knew, and Tina Packer knows, that even in the midst of tragedy there are diversions in which the groundlings in the pit (and we in a contemporary audience) can delight in a moment of laughter that releases us when tension has run high.
This production has them when suddenly actors become statues that can be lifted and moved. Moments later the mood can change dynamically as a battle is fought in slow motion that is a subtle and moving dance.
In the three-strand plot of this rarely produced tragedy, Coriolanus must cope with and eventually fail in three areas:
his dependence on his controlling mother’s goals for him,
- his love/hate relationship with a military rival,
- his over-weaning pride that makes him scorn the starving citizens of Rome.
The director’s notes in the program, summarizing the background and plot, make it well worth while to be in one’s seat ten minutes early to have time to read them. In this ensemble cast all roles are played with such skill and brio that all deserve praise. Outstanding in the longer roles are Dan McCleary (Coriolanus), Dennis Krausnick (Menenius), Jonathan Epstein (Aufidius), Elizabeth Ingram (Volumnai), and Lisa Wolpe (Tribune).
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s most difficult roles. We cannot love him; his pride is too great, his trust too suspect, his final agony never becomes ours. Although alone on the stage at times, he rarely lets us share his thoughts. In the last act, his enemy and rival calls him “boy” and he is shocked almost into awareness. McCleary handles his complex role with skillful nuances of voice and action.
Krausnick’s Menenius is one of the surprising new developments in this season’s production. As Coriolanus’ aged patrician friend, he hones his character on the long belly anecdote in the first act and brings amazing comedy into the play as a whole. His versatility is apparent in his tragic rejection by his onetime protege, a moving scene wherein his vocal versatility is outstanding.
Jonathan Epstein has over the years become one of the company’s most praised and respected actors. As the hated rival warrior, his smallest gesture – the touch of a hand or the shading of a speech – can speak volumes. He also slips into a number of lesser roles brilliantly.
Elizabeth Ingram, as the widowed mother of Coriolanus, brings such skill and shading to the role that one cannot imagine it played otherwise. She has instilled such monstrous values into her son that tragedy is inevitable. She is a character we can hate and deplore. Her long role is pivotal and played with careful variations of voice, face and gesture – simply wonderful!
Lisa Wolpe as Tribune is dynamic. A moment later she is stately as Rome’s patron saint. She can also be a Roman beggar or an enemy soldier. Her voice is clear; all lines tellingly delivered.
Jack Lee (who alternates with Hachi Ramos as Coriolanus, young son) was charming in an early domestic scene in which he mimics his doting grandmother who is intent on ruining him as she has his father and is delighted to hear that he abuses butterflies.
Indeed the whole cast is splendid and each could be singled out for praise. Tene Carter is as compelling as Coriolanus’ meek, dutiful wife as she is when she sports a pitchfork as a starving citizen. Michael F. Toomey as tribune and the newcomers to the cast also serve it well.
The simple set, subtle lighting, and the background music composed by Tanglewood musicians all contribute to make this a rewarding evening in the theatre. Go. This opening is a significant one in Berkshire theatre history and bodes well for the future of Shakespeare & Co.. Perhaps a few Bloomsday’s from now we can glory in the opening production of the new Rose Theatre that is to bloom on the site.