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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, June 16, 2024

‘Coriolanus’: Queer Shakespeare in Boston

Actors Genevieve Simon and Jennie Israel are pictured.

Returning to live audiences, the Actors’ Shakespeare Project takes on “Coriolanus,” one of The Bard’s latest and least famous plays, with an all female/nonbinary cast. Running through April 23, “Coriolanus” unfolds an intricate political landscape and leaves no character unscathed in the eyes of the audience.

An anti-hero bound by the limits of his pride, the titular Coriolanus is a warrior in the early days of ancient Rome. Still a city-state fighting for its place among cities of similar sizes, Rome’s greatest enemies are the Volsci and itself. Recently a kingdom, Rome is still settling on its governmental structure.

Between the external battles and the internal struggles for power, Shakespeare develops a complex political landscape rife with complex characters. Director A. Nora Long communicates these dynamics across the stage. “Coriolanus” refuses to have one opinion about any one group of people: all characters are critiqued. Historically, “Coriolanus” has been performed to offer sympathy to all charactersduring one period or another.

Long’s interpretation sides with the plebeians. When the crowds demand corn from the wealthy, Brutus (Shanelle Chloe Villegas) and Sicinius (Ahtziri Ulloa) are introduced as the Tribunes, the voices of the plebeians in the Senate. Villegas and Ulloa appear again and again, not as tribunes but as servants, as the invisible labor, according to Long.

Despite the stellar cast of seven, these overlapping roles, even with subtle costume changes, sometimes left the audience muddled as they dissected the intricacies of the political landscape. Even without this ensemble interpretation, the elaborate social dynamics warrant the reading of a synopsis before attending.

Sean San José’s modern-day translation maintains 70% of the original Shakespearean dialogue, including the iambic pentameter. Original lines such as “What is the city but the people” and “Anger is my meat” still ring ever so true in our modern-day tongue. Some phrases, most notably “Reject the election,” are woven seamlessly into the original dialogue and encourage any 21st-century American viewer to draw parallels with the current political climate. 

An all female/nonbinary cast changes the traditional interpretation of the play, which actor Genevieve Simon, who plays the titular character, described as “men yelling for two hours,” during a talkback with the audience on April 6. Sean San José’s rendition was meant for diverse, all female/nonbinary casts.

The thrill of “Coriolanus” is that no character is left intact, no character is left draped in glory. From the same script, a director may choose to emphasize the gore of war and the discord among the poor. But in an interpretation of “Coriolanus”through the queer, female gaze, the story is about a man with mommy issues and an unfinished, homoerotic love story.

Audiences leave wondering who is the loveable character among all of the mess. Long reminds viewers that theater is compassion training and challenges them to recognize their shared humanity with those onstage.

Summary The thrill of “Coriolanus” is that no character is left intact, no character is left draped in glory.
4 Stars