- Bailey Carr
Standing at the podium, addressing the Roman Senate in his bid to be elected consul, the titular character in Theater In Asylum’s Shakespeare modernization #Coriolanus (Russell Peck) flies into a rage, one that is dutifully live-tweeted by the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius (Julie Robles and Julia Giolzetti). His tyrannical rant elicits immediate reaction from the people of Rome, who are portrayed in this inventive staging as flurries of tweets that are projected onto the walls of Under St. Marks. “He did call us #rats,” one of them writes, as the public turns against the general whose praises were being tweeted a few minutes earlier.
Incorporating social media on stage is a gamble, particularly in updates of classical works, but it pays off handsomely here. The projected tweets help to fill out the Off-Off Broadway production’s necessarily small cast, while speeding this potentially clunky historical tragedy through its various military and political campaigns. At just 95 minutes, director Paul Bedard’s adaptation is expedient not just for the sake of keeping the audience’s attention but also as a reflection of today’s accelerated political news cycle. Here, potentially pompous battlefield scenes are distilled to very effective interpretive dance duels (choreographed by Katie Palmer) and didactic senate speeches become mediated minefields liable to be parodied and retweeted relentlessly by the Roman electorate.
Beyond outsourcing its plebeian chorus to Twitter, this contemporary take on Coriolanus benefits from some terrific performances, and a couple that are rather overwrought. Peck and Madeline Reed (as the general’s mother Volumnia) frequently fall into overacting, particularly given the intimacy of the tiny stage. Happily, they also play up the incestuous undertones of Coriolanus’s relationship with his mother—which may be heightened here since the role of Virgilia, his wife, has been cut—evoking Shakespeare’s other creepily close mother-son duo, Hamlet and Gertrude. Robles and Giolzetti are especially excellent in their scene as hapless attendants to Aufidius (Martin Boersma), Coriolanus’s nemesis and, briefly, his ally against Rome.
Though Bedard and company have taken a great number of risks in this stylized semi-update of Coriolanus, the result is well worthwhile. By the time Roman citizens are hashtagging their tweets “#CoriolanusIsBanished,” we’ve become devoted followers.
Theater in Asylum’s #Coriolanus runs through July 20 at Under St. Marks.