Coriolanus versus Wallenstein: this time it’s personal

After spending two Saturdays in a row attending Shakespeare Theater’s productions of Coriolanus/Wallenstein in repertory, I came to new appreciations of arrogance and hubris. My own efforts in both areas fall short of mastery. But I’m working on it.

Coriolanus is the arrogant one, of course, a man so loathe to mix with his lessers that he loses his city and his honor. Wallenstein is hubristic to the point of megalomania. And, yeah, one could just be a rest stop on the road to the other, but a subtlety separates them: Coriolanus, while contemptuous of just about everyone except the guy in the mirror (and, man, what a Mom complex), loves his country and family and is willing to fight to the death for both. Wallenstein only loves himself, and is willing to sell out country and daughter and friends to keep that self-regard. The difference is stark in both productions. Good job, Michael Kahn.

You’ve probably seen the movie version of Coriolanus, you know, Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, lots of Hollywood royalty running around declaiming. But you were probably scratching your head about halfway through and going, “Geez, Martius, get with the program, why doncha?” Was the guy mental? Eh, lesser Shakespeare, shrug it off. But, I tell ya, after watching Patrick Page’s interpretation of the title role, the play made sense. Sorry, Ralph, you’re a great actor, but you missed it.

Coriolanus was one of the loudest productions I have ever seen anywhere, with drums banging and gongs sounding and a lot of yelling and jumping around. Very stimulating. And Page was maniacal. You don’t want to get into a dustup with this guy. But what shone through in his portrayal was the character’s basic honor, his unselfishness. Now, yeah, Martius is a jerk, not a guy you want over for Sunday tea, but he’s also a straight shooter and, well, them Roman lumpenproletariat are just not people you want at Sunday tea, either, so you can see Coriolanus’ point. He’s simply not willing to kiss their derrieres, and, boy, does he make that clear. To everyone. In public. Which has a somewhat deleterious effect on his political career, so he gets exiled (which is a bit of overreaction, I must say) and Martius, in turn, overreacts by joining the enemy and laying waste to the countryside. Excessive way to prove a point, methinks. But this is a play of excess so it works.

But, tell ya, Coriolanus is a far more principled man than Wallenstein, who is, basically, a dick. For all his larger-than-life hailfellowwell met “I am one of you low scum soldiers” posturing, I was ready to jump on stage and smack him with a halberd. What a calculating, backstabbing jackass, switching sides as the mood hit him, selling out his troops left and right, all for the wonder that is he. Steve Pickering  was just outstanding in the role.

Both productions used the same staging, a stark mass of cement that was bleak and loveless, as befitting both plays. The other actors/actresses did an extremely good job, but were overpowered by the lead. If that’s intended, okay, because there was definitely no scene stealing. I did very much like Derrick Lee Weeden, who played Sicinius in Coriolanus and Kolibas in Wallenstein, because he has got just the best voice. And Brian Russell is a naturally funny guy, providing the only comic relief in a hilarious chest-bumping scene with Max Reinhardsen (who is equally funny) and Jaysen Wright in Coriolanus, and as the hapless Harvaty in Wallenstein.

So, kiddies, if you have an overblown sense of your own importance, be a Coriolanus. Or a successful Wallenstein.

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