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THEATER REVIEW

A crackling 'Coriolanus'

A Noise Within keeps Shakespeare's drama in early Roman trappings, but this powerful story remains pertinent.

October 10, 2003|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

As long as arrogant generals and politicians strut through public life, Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" remains a play that's as pertinent as it is powerful. It should be seen much more frequently than it is.

A Noise Within staged it in the Glendale company's second year, 1992, and has now made it the first of Shakespeare's plays the troupe has revisited.

That 1992 production was in modern dress, as were most of the play's other rare appearances on Southland stages in the last 20 years. This time, in what perversely qualifies as a rather daring choice, the play is set in its original early Roman era by directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez Elliott.

The two leading actors from that 1992 production are back, and in fine form -- Elliott in the title role and June Claman as Coriolanus' domineering mother, Volumnia.

Elliott virtually exhales fire as the brilliant but bilious general, who is initially defeated not by his enemies on the battlefield but by his congenital inability to make nice with the plebeian mobs. At one point he physically vomits (not very explicitly, thank you), so disgusted is he by his forced contact with his presumed inferiors.

But Elliott also makes it clear that Coriolanus isn't just a crank. The general's downfall stems from a trait that is the opposite of his usual behavior -- he has a soft spot for his mother, and his ultimate capitulation to her wishes leaves him extremely vulnerable.

Elliott is as magnetic in his suspenseful silences, as he listens to his mother's pleas, as he was in his earlier rages.

Claman is a formidable Volumnia, small in size but towering in the ambition and willfulness she has passed on to her son.

Yet she, too, is transformed during the play -- into a reluctant would-be peacemaker, and Claman convincingly takes us along on her journey.

Bo Foxworth, as the leader of the shaggy-haired Volscian forces and Coriolanus' nemesis, has a wily and forceful presence.

Contributing a touch of graceful levity is Mitchell Edmonds as a patrician philosopher and friend of Coriolanus. Adding more than a touch of dolor is Jill Hill as Coriolanus' wife, who can't help but feel that she is second to his mother in his affections.

Stephen Rockwell and William Dennis Hunt play the suspicious tribunes who agitate the crowd into frenzies against the disdainful general.

These mob scenes and the battles are swiftly and surely staged. The entire production crackles with the same kind of energy that propelled the Elliotts' "Macbeth" last year. In one especially well-staged strategy session, Coriolanus' battle wounds -- which he refuses to display to the plebeians as custom dictates -- are displayed to the audience, graphically emphasizing the painful risks he is taking.

The only questionable choice in the staging is Coriolanus' final moment, in which he dramatically dives into a crowd of assassins, almost as if he's committing suicide. Surely Elliott's Coriolanus would have kept fighting until the end.

*

'Coriolanus'

Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: Oct. 12, Nov. 2 and 23, 2 and 7 p.m.; Oct. 15-16, Nov. 5 and 14, Dec. 5 and 6, 8 p.m.; Nov. 15, 2 and 8 p.m.

Ends: Dec. 6

Price: $30-$34

Contact: (818) 240-0910

Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Geoff Elliott...Coriolanus

June Claman...Volumnia

Bo Foxworth...Tullus Aufidius

Mitchell Edmonds...Menenius Agrippa

Apollo Dukakis...Cominius

William Dennis Hunt...Sicinius Velutus

Stephen Rockwell...Junius Brutus

Jill Hill...Virgilia

Christopher Halladay...Titus Lartius

Hisa Takakuwa...Valeria

Darrell Sandeen...Roman Senator

Patrick Humphrey...Young Martius

By William Shakespeare. Directed by Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez Elliott. Set by Michael C. Smith. Costumes by Alex Jaeger. Lighting by Peter Gottlieb. Music and sound by Norman L. Berman. Wigs and hair by Joyce Ann Littrell. Fight choreographer Kenneth R. Merckx Jr. Stage manager Victoria Robinson.

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