POST: 'Coriolanus' - I felt like a Roman Senator
What's it about?
Coriolanus follows Caius Martius (better known as Coriolanus) and his arc from a heroic Roman commander to a jaded outcast. It is in modern costumes and settings, as opposed to its Roman roots. It is a play about pride, politics, war and power dynamics.
What'd I experience?
I was really excited to see this play. After I got my ticket and sat down in the theater, I was immediately drawn to the space itself. The seating arrangement mirrored the kind of half-circle you might see in the U.S. House of Representatives – it made me feel almost like I was a Roman Senator or a U.S. Representative, watching everything unfold. Sorry... my degree is in political science, so please bear with me. It made it feel much more immersive than if I had just been sat in a row looking straight ahead. I really felt like a part of the show, instead of only an audience member...
There were lots of little props and gimmicks - balloons fell from the ceiling when Coriolanus decided to run for consul. Coriolanus and his surrogates handed out little slips of paper for the audience to “cast their ballot”. I was fascinated by all these little touches they added to make the audience more a part of the proceedings. At one point, cast members (who were playing senators and tribunes) shook hands with several front row audience members, like a contemporary politician does before and after a campaign stop, or a fundraising event. I loved how different it was from the usual separation between stage action and audience.
Surprisingly, the people at this play were some of the friendliest and most talkative, which I wasn’t expecting given the heavy political climate. Strangers were asking each other what they thought of certain scenes, people were playing with the leftover balloons during the intermission. I even got to chat with a Columbia grad student (who was reviewing the play) sitting next to me about the difference between those born in New Yorker and transplants. I’m usually more apt to sit quietly when I go to a show, but this time I was surprisingly at ease talking to fellow attendees. Maybe taking in a political situation that wasn’t the vitriolic 2016 election just put everyone at ease. Fiction can be a wonderful escape.
It’s such a small thing, but the actor who played Menenius (Coriolanus’ most trusted political ally) had this warm southern drawl that was so so smooth. It reminded me of Frank Underwood in House of Cards. His voice felt like it filled up the room. During his first lines, I thought that he sounded like the kind of man who would walk around with a glass of bourbon in hand. And then he did! Later in the show, he would walk around with a drink in hand. One of MY more clever moments.
I've only seen Shakespeare performed once before – and that was a showing of King Lear, which I had previously read. I had never read Coriolanus before. So trying to fully understand the language was a bit of a tricky task. I definitely wish I had read it before or at least had browsed Sparknotes or Wikipedia. But, I did buy the script after the show because I really wanted to better understand what the heck was going on.