By Jennifer Mustoe
I make it a habit to see Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s Halloween show at Provo’s Castle Amphitheater, so looked forward to see this year’s offering, Coriolanus. Telling you now, even though I have a degree in Humanities, English emphasis, I don’t always know what’s going on with Shakespeare. I don’t admit this easily. And thankfully, Grassroots Shakespeare Company gives me the clearest picture of what exactly is going on. That’s one of the reasons I love them. Their physical and vocal presentation enlightens me. However, for some reason, Coriolanus was easy to understand. Was it because the plot wasn’t quite so complicated? (But still highly entertaining.) Was it because, yo, GSC is finally teaching me to understand and interpret Shakespeare? (This would be a Halloween miracle.) Could it be that what is happening in the United States today, having a leader who has contempt for our citizenry except for the rich is at the forefront? Maybe all three.
Super easy plot: Nobles versus peasants. Caius Martius aka Coriolanus (Chase Grant) is filled with pride and disdain. He becomes Rome’s leader, but because he is a noble and therefore less than trustworthy, and he has a remarkably awful temper (rage issues), he is quickly deposed and run out of town. He chums up with Aufidius (Carlos Nobleza Posas), who befriends and supports him. Coriolanus, because he’s basically a jerk, betrays his friend and things pretty much go downhill from there. These two actors blazed onstage. I don’t think I’ve seen Grant’s work before, but I am now a huge fan and will stalk him (in a good way) to see more of his productions. I saw the excellent Posas in Wasatch Theatre Company’s Dinner, and his tight, professional, subtle acting choices work perfectly in Coriolanus.
As is always the case, every cast member is marvelous and many of them play several characters. Several male roles were played by women, and this worked especially well in this show. After the huge success of Wonder Woman, where all my female friends discovered a heightened sense of Girl Power, we want to see more strong women and this cast is filled with them. Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother, played stunningly by Elizabeth Golden, pretty much blew me away. She crackles as she reprimands and then defendes her son. She walked right in front of me several times and she glows with character and talent. Seriously. Esther Pielstick plays Martius’ wife Virgilia as well as an Ensemble member and is another wildly fierce female character. She gets to be strong as both a female and a male character and portrays both persuasively. Toria Truax-Jones as Brutus and Erin Ellis as Cominius round out the female power team and they absolutely are smokin’ onstage. Because this is an outdoor theater, everyone has to really project to be heard, and these woman bring it. Straight up.
A GSC regular, Steven Pond plays Menenius, and this is a tough role to do well and Pond nails it. He has a conscience and truly cares for Coriolanus, but he can’t convince the hot-tempered Coriolanus to chill out. Nobody can. I’m a big fan of Pond and loved his portrayal in this show. Lucas Buchanan‘s Sicinius is also highly satisfying and powerful. A fine, highly competent, enjoyable cast, directed by another GSC favorite, Jessamyn Svensson. She switched up a few things for this production and I liked the changes. I also loved, I admit it, that after the show, she was the one mopping up all the blood all over the stage. No diva is Ms. Svensson.
Finally, as with all GSC productions, live music plays in the background, and this moves the plot along, and moves the audience emotionally, as well. Gary Argyle, Robert Starks and Scott Robinson are great and add so much to this show.
As I have thought of Grassroots’ Coriolanus over the weekend, I realize that I was really more affected by it the longer I thought about it. Perhaps it was the likability and proficiency of the actors, but while this was a blood-bath, it really is tragic. A legit Shakespearean Tragedy. All the characters in the play are doing their best–like people do–but they end up losing a lot. Some lose everything. It’s caused me to think about my own life–what are the flaws I need to overcome? What do I need to change so I can succeed? Shakespeare causes us to laugh and cry, but he also asks us to think–and maybe change. Coriolanus is a great Halloween production, but it’s also a great lesson to ponder for much longer.
Grassroots Shakespeare Company presents Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
The Castle Amphitheater, 1300 E Center Street; Provo, Utah 84606
Tickets: Groundling (standing in the splash zone) $10, Gallery (sitting) $15
October 13-31, Monday, Friday, Saturday pre-show 7:00 PM, Show 7:30 PM. Performance on Tuesday, October 31 7:00 PM
Grassroots Shakespeare Company Facebook Page
Coriolanus Facebook Event