Today’s Wall Street Journal drama column is devoted in its entirety to a Washington show, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new production of Coriolanus. Here’s a excerpt.
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Why has “Coriolanus” never been popular? It’s only been mounted once on Broadway–in 1938. The last time that I reviewed a production in this space was eight years ago. Yet connoisseurs need no reminding of the immense stature of Shakespeare’s most explicitly political play. T.S. Eliot ranked “Coriolanus” above “Hamlet,” calling it “Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success.” A man I know who used to work for one of America’s best-known politicians claims that it’s one of only two pieces of literary art that tells the whole truth about politics (the other, he says, is “All the King’s Men”). And if you should be lucky enough to see Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new production, directed by David Muse and featuring a towering performance by Patrick Page, you’ll come away wondering why it doesn’t get done regularly by every drama company in America….
Mr. Muse has opted for a modified modern-dress staging (“suits and swords,” in his neat phrase) that eschews cheap political point-making. He’s gunning for bigger game. He understands that “Coriolanus” is not about any particular politician, or any particular war: Its real subject is pride. Is there room in a democracy for an aristocrat like Coriolanus who refuses to play the popularity game? Or is it his duty to don the hypocrite’s mask in order to serve the greater good? Shakespeare leaves it to us to decide, and so does Mr. Muse.
All of which brings us to Mr. Page, who is known on Broadway as a specialist in villainy. In recent seasons he’s done the dirty in “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “A Man for All Seasons” and “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” in which he played, of all things, the Green Goblin. But he’s no second banana: Mr. Page is one of this country’s leading classical actors, and in “Coriolanus” he shows you everything he’s got, starting with a resplendent bass voice so well placed that he can fill the theater with a whisper, then make your seat shake. He is, in the very best sense of the word, an old-fashioned actor who has no fear of the grand gesture….
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Read the whole thing here.