Bare Theatre, known for its lively Shakespeare productions, takes on its most ambitious project with “Coriolanus,” staged on Halifax Mall, the green space within the state government complex in downtown Raleigh.
It’s an inspired choice by director G. Todd Buker, because the play’s political conflicts echo elements of the “Moral Monday” protests recently held at the complex, and the plot’s epic scope works well against the monumental scale of the buildings.
This relatively unknown work is back in fashion with its tale of populace versus government. Roman general Coriolanus, hailed for his military prowess, is encouraged to seek election as consul. The Senate supports him, but many citizens decry his lack of sympathy for the needs of the average citizen. Organized by outraged leaders, protesters thwart his election and effect his banishment. Coriolanus sides with invading forces to attempt conquering Rome as retribution.
The production is set in the present, the 18-member cast in business suits, military garb and casual clothing. Most lighting comes from existing building-and-grounds illumination. Guides lead the small audience (limited to 40) from scene to scene, ranging from building entrances and flights of steps to patios and porticos. The actors are up close in each scene and sometimes travel with the audience to the next one, where other actors are already in action as the group approaches. Effective use is made of a portable speaker, providing ambient sounds and appropriate mood music.
Buker’s concept is cleverly devised and executed, his cast well-rehearsed and admirably committed. Notable leads include Douglas Lally’s brusque, brooding Coriolanus, Fred Corlett’s servile peacemaker Menenius Agrippa, John Paul Middlesworth’s sly agitator Junius Brutus and Benji Jones’ Volumnia, Coriolanus’ fiercely loyal mother.
The play is more about theme than characterization, making the first act’s short, dramatic scenes energetically engaging, while the second act’s many monologues and repetitive dialogue tend to drag. The 2 hour, 15 minute duration (including intermission) makes for a longish stand, despite moving from scene to scene and some opportunities to sit on steps and benches.
Nevertheless, Bare Theatre gets great credit for a creative, enthusiastic production that keeps Shakespeare a relevant playwright and the Triangle theater scene on the cutting edge.