St. Louis Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” Brings The Bard’s Lesser Known Work To Life

Beautiful stage pictures and some compelling confrontations help to bring this little produced Shakespeare tragedy to life for, in my recollection, the first time on a St. Louis stage. Be sure to read the concise notes in the program before this one gets started because the somewhat convoluted plot may confuse. Our hero, Caius Martius- also later tagged with the moniker Coriolanus, is a Roman general, then defects to the enemy in the Volscian city of Corioles but then returns to Rome when the citizens of that city find him a bit sneaky and abrasive as well- to put it simply. All due to some bad PR from his enemies.

Reginald Pierre as “Coriolanus” in the St. Louis Shakespeare production.

Despite some odd staging choices- such as making the opening mob scene more like a modern day “occupy” movement and having folks walking around Rome with cell phones- director Donna Northcott has given us some vivid and stunningly beautiful stage pictures. Even the curtain call is dramatic and impressive with the large cast giving us an eerie, final reminder of the tragedies that have preceded. Add to this the simple but strong set design of Amanda Handle and the dramatic lighting- including a powerful cyclorama that dominates the proceedings- by Steve Miller, and you’ve got one of the most beautiful productions I’ve seen.

Reginald Pierre is a force to be reckoned with as Coriolanus. His power brings him up in the people’s eyes but soon begins to destroy him as well. It’s a great performance filled with majesty and nuance. Donna Postel also shines as his mother, Volumnia, the real power behind the throne. His mentor and cheerleader, Menenius, is given a first-rate reading by Richard Lewis. He’s one of the few of the evening, unfortunately, who clearly brings Shakespeare’s speech to brilliant life.

Michael Juncal is a sturdy, no-nonsense Volscian leader, Aufidius. He welcomes the defection of Coriolanus until the Roman general begins to usurp his power and popularity which leads to the final confrontation. Brian Kappler and Paul Devine give us a good pair to hate as the tribunes who plot to destroy Coriolanus- just because they have the backing of the people and wish to abuse that power. Tim Callahan as a general is strong as well and Betsy Bowman is a perfect match for the hero/tragic figure that is Coriolanus.

As with any cast of this mass, you get some good, some bad, and some so-so. That is the real tragedy of this production. You’ve got some real power and talent and then you’ve got some folks who seem to lose the spirit of the language and flow of Shakespeare. It doesn’t completely destroy the overall production, but it gives it enough glitches here and there to destroy your concentration and lose the majesty that this piece otherwise should engender.

So, kudos to Donna Northcott and company for bringing us the first ever St. Louis production of this Shakespearean tragedy and you’re in for a treat despite the few flaws. Just enjoy the exciting fight sequences, the machinations of war and politics and the strong stage pictures that unfold before your eyes. “Coriolanus” plays at St. Louis Shakespeare Company at the Grandel Square Theatre through July 29th. Call them at 314-361-5664 for tickets or more information.

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