In a new production of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” the Bard’s minor players grow in importance beside the play’s leading war heroes.
Set to run Jan. 18 to 21, the Roman tragedy is the first play to go up under the umbrella of this spring’s Shakespeare at Yale festival and the result of a collaborative effort between members of the theater studies seminar “ReMaking Shakespeare.” Under the direction of theater studies professor Daniel Larlham ’00 and Timmia Hearn Feldman ’12, this rendition of the play expands Shakespeare’s vision of wartime Rome with a new emphasis on oft-overlooked characters such as plebeians and servants, with particular attention to the female voice.
“We’re not doing Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus,’” Feldman said. “‘Coriolanus’ is a man’s play about men with one very masculine woman, glorifying violence.”
The play tells the story of the eponymous Roman general who turns his back on Rome after being betrayed and losing out on a position in the Senate. But Feldman said their version, a senior project for actors Jesse Kirkland ’12 and William Smith ’12, focuses more on human emotions and interactions than plot narrative.
The class added several new features to Shakespeare’s tale in order to build up traditionally obscure characters, such as excerpts from BBC articles, historic documents from the United States Department of War and a poem written by Serina Allison Hearn, Feldman’s mother, about waiting for a soldier to return home. Larlham and Feldman decided to collaborate on the play last spring, and the directors and performers have worked together to develop their version since August, said Smith, who plays Coriolanus.
Jessica Miller ’15, who acts the role of Coriolanus’ quiet and loyal wife Virgilia, said the additions to the script allow the audience a deeper understanding of her character’s inner concerns.
“The character only has about 14 lines, but throughout the process of monologues and pieces [of historical articles, poems and letters added throughout the entire show] you can see the inner life of someone who longs to speak their mind but cannot because of societal conventions and also personal fears,” Miller said.
Though Virgilia is one of only three women originally written into the play, Feldman said the ensemble chose to add a fourth woman named Veturia, played by Clio Contegenis ’14, to represent a modern-day feminist and antiwar mindset.
The mixing of old and modern ideals wasn’t a stretch for this adaptation, Smith said, as war, personal ambition and the pressure of family expectations are issues that still exist today. The staging, Feldman said, similarly mixes past and present. The all-white set is furnished with a steel back wall and Ikea chairs, contrasting with the characters’ traditional Roman garb of robes, sandals, shields and swords.
Despite the play’s updated feel, Smith said he found complexities in bringing the title character’s classic angst to the stage. His challenge as an actor, he said, was to tap into Coriolanus’ anger and egotism.
“In Coriolanus we don’t really get a guy we can get behind. We don’t get a clear-cut good guy [or] bad guy,” Smith said. “I want the effects of betrayal on the human psyche to come through [in] my performance of Coriolanus. He was motivated by rage, which comes from betrayal.”
Smith and his fellow performers have had almost half a year to study their characters, and the entire production has been researching adaptations and historical background since August.
The production will run Jan. 18 to 20 in the Whitney Humanities Center theater.