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There is a world elsewhere. .— Coriolanus
Dion Johnstone in Coriolanus (Carol Rosegg)
Shakespeare's last tragedy,Coriolanus, is not a favorite, but it tends to inspire productions during election times. And so, a new production by the Red Bull Theatre Company just as New York voters are poised to vote for their next president. It's easy to detect that director Michael Sexton is making some less than subtle allusions to our current presidential campaign and those of yesteryear. It begins with s dozens of balloons sent floating down on the raised platform stage as Coriolanus is presented as a candidate for consul and we hear the Fleetwood Mac song "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" (the theme song of you-know-who during the 1992 presidential election).

Indeed, this production really holds a mirror up to our media-soaked eyes and ears. But its center is the acting. A sterling cast!

Dion Johnstone inhabits the titular character with a trenchant virility. He spews out his character's lines with force and clarity. What's more, he has the acting range to capture the dichotomous qualities of a man who is alternately a killing machine and a devoted son.

The rest of the cast also delivers. Patrick Page, with his rich baritone voice, is pitch-perfect as Coriolanus' friend Menenius. Page's Menenius is the epitome of a patrician who feels right at home in the beau monde. Unlike Coriolanus, he can butter up the common people when it's necessary for political gain.

In the plum role of Volumnia, Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Lisa Harrow exudes stage presence, and her command of Shakespeare's verse is impeccable. While her vocal craft is superb, it's watching her manipulate her son like a piece of soft putty that's fascinating from her first entrance.

Stephen Spinella and Merritt Janson as Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus, are well cast as the two tribunes who rally the people against Coriolanus. Aaron Krohn inhabits the commander-in-chief Cominius with a no-nonsense authority. Matthew Amendt nails the unsympathetic role of Aufidius with the steely swagger of a hard-metal rock star.

I would be remiss not to mention Rebecca S'Manga Frank, who plays Coriolanus' wife Virgilia with a suitably self-effacing air. Christina Pumariega inhabits Virgilia's friend Valeria with the marble-coolness of Roman statuary. Olivia Reis, dressed in boyish garb, plays Young Martius with disarming directness.

The creative team add their own theatrical magic. Brett J. Banakis' minimalist set design and dramatic lighting are just right, giving ample space and illumination to the mob scenes and striking tableaus that punctuate this performance. Asta Bennie Hostetter's costumes are an eclectic mix of military outfits and civilian clothes of different cut and style. Sydney Skybetter's movement direction is at its best when the organized chaos of the crowd sweeps across the performing area and spills up the aisles.

One of the remarkable things about this production is that Coriolanus, one of the Bard's' most unlovable characters, becomes sympathetic at play's end. In the famous supplication scene in Act 5, when Coriolanus bows to his mother Volumnia's plea to make peace with Rome, he morphs from being a monster into a sentient human being. Although Coriolanus delivers no eloquent soliloquy here, he reaches out meaningfully to his mother, signaling his acceptance of her word-and his fate. And it speaks volumes.

This Coriolanus gives new legs to an unpopular play in the canon.

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Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
Directed By Michael Sexton
Cast: Matthew Amendt (Aufidius),Rebecca S'manga Frank(Virgilia), Zachary Fine (Titus Lartius), Lisa Harrow (Volumnia), Merritt Janson (Brutus),Dion Johnstone (Coriolanus). Aaron Krohn (Cominius), Edward O'Blenis (Company), Patrick Page (Menenius),Christina Pumariega (Valeria) Olivia Reis (Company), Stephen Spinella (Sicinius)
Set & Light Design: Brett J Banakis
Costume Design: Asta Bennie Hostetter
Sound Design: Brandon Wolcott
Fight Director Thomas Schall
Movement Director Sydney Skybetter
Voice & Text Coach Gigi Buffington
Dramaturg: Dakin Matthews
Stage Manager: Kat West
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Red Bull Theater Company at 27 Barrow Street
From 10/18/16; opening 10/30/16; closing 11/20/16. Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan at October 26th press preview

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