by Kriss Perras
There are seven deadly sins, or capital vices: greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, sloth and pride. It is of these Shakespeare writes most often, the startling array of human emotions. Taking a slice out of Shakespeare’s canon, for Hamlet, it is wrath. For Othello, take your pick: lust, wrath, envy, sloth and we could keep going. In King Lear it is greed and any combination of the others. In Romeo and Juliette, it is even worse. We get hybrids of the seven deadly sins. For Coriolanus, it is pride.
This summer Theatricum Botanicum’s searing drama Coriolanus is performed on the theater’s wooded outdoor stage with a very large cast of 45. David DeSantos played the title role with the emotional outbursts of an overindulged child. Ellen Geer played the iron willed Vulumnia, Coriolanus’ mother. Geer was moving and emotive, backstabbing and creepy as a would-be girlfriend to her son. Melora Marshall played Senator Menenius Agrippa. She was outstanding as an ambitious aristocrat who uses her white robes, clever tongue and great wit to avoid conflict. Max Lawrence payed Aufidius, the Volscian General and Coriolanus’ rival in warfare. Lawrence had a sense of power and commanding jealousy in his role as Aufidius. Dane Oliver plays a Volscian Lieutenant and interacts frequently with DeSantos’ Coriolanus as both friend and foe — both times seemingly not be trusted. The two had both a great enmity and brotherhood chemistry.
Everyone played a large part on the huge Theatricum stage. There were long time actors like Geer, Marshall and DeSantos and young actors like Geer’s grandchild Quinnlym Scheppner who are playing in Coriolanus too. This acting troupe performed intricate sword fighting stunts. These were epic scenes that covered the entire stage area from forest to audience to theater doors. The entire theater became part of the story. Actors even sat next to audience members and interacted with them. Actors broke the fourth wall and interacted with the audience, little aside jokes Shakespeare wrote into the dialogue that no doubt his audience too had great fun with.
Coriolanus is Shakespeare’s most political play written for the Blackfriars stage. The King’s Men, originally called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with Shakespeare as the company’s principal dramatist, owned Blackfriars Theater beginning in 1608. The theater was originally built in 1596 by the famous actor Richard Burbage who played all of Shakespeare’s title roles, Hamlet, Othello, Richard III and King Lear. Blackfriars was very soon to become London’s premiere theater. It was situated along the Northern bank of the Thames.
Public theaters of Shakespeare’s day had no roofs that catered to the lower classes. Blackfriars was a private theater with clientele of the upper social classes. This meant Blackfriars was built on church grounds with money that had belonged to the Monarch, King Henry VIII. It was a large theater that seated 700. It had artificial lighting and other amenities of private theaters, but also the trap doors and wires and belts to hang props and lower the actors same as the public theaters.
Shakespeare gave a performance to his Elizabethan audience depicting political leadership that had just transitioned from Monarchy to a Republic in Roman Society. Coriolanus is based on a true story just after the period of the expulsion of Rome’s last Monarch, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, and the establishment of the Res Publica Romana, the Roman Republic. At the opening of the play we are about a decade after this time. The transition from Monarchy to Republic created a power struggle between the classes, the Patrician class and the Plebian Class.
Theatericum Botanicums performance of Coriolanus is timely. It depicts how our values are being tested today. This is Shakespeare’s allegory that is still relevant today. The moral and political hidden meanings of this story are a timeless metaphor about today’s real world issues. Theatricum really delivers its socially conscious message with this play. There are no heroes in Coriolanus. There are only emotional moments that deliver a cautionary tale Shakespeare intended to be timeless. History repeats itself must have been known to him back then. The performance of the play is a reminder to us of that phrase today.
June 2 – September 23, 2018
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290