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Coriolanus: What’s the Big Idea here?

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Joshua Glenn Robertson stars in the title role of Big Idea Theater's production of "Coriolanus."

The Big Idea Theatre on Del Paso Boulevard is perhaps the best community theater group in Sacramento. It produces entertaining and challenging classic and contemporary works — and it does more Shakespeare each season than anyone, except maybe the summer Shakespeare Festival in Land Park.

Kirk Blackinton and Brian Harrower, two of the original company men, have shown such a grasp of Shakespeare and a knack of adapting his works that they were tapped for the recent Sacramento Theater Company production of “Julius Caesar.”

Others among the BIT company also tackle adaptations of the Bard, though not always as successfully as Blackinton and Harrower. A case in point is the theater company’s current production of Shakespeare’s rarely produced tragedy “Coriolanus.” This may, in fact, be the first Sacramento production of the play.

“Coriolanus” tells the story of war hero Caius Marcius (honored with the title Coriolanus for a major battlefield victory), who at the behest of his wily and manipulative mother Volumnia seeks to parlay his war-hero status into political office. He finds no success there — his disdain for the public has a lot to do with that — and he turns against his homeland, aligning himself with his former enemy Tullus Aufidius for more bloodshed and vengeance.

Assistant Director Laura Kaya is responsible for this adaptation, which is set in a fictional Slavic state. That geographic area is ripe for a tale of political and military turmoil and personal hubris. And Kaya is right in grasping the 21st Century relevance of the story.

Joshua Glenn Robertson stars as Coriolanus, with Marion Jeffrey as his mother and Derek Byrne as Aufidius. Scott
Divine directs the perfectly paced production with almost equal parts of calm dialogue and rousing action.

The excellent cast also includes Jamie Kale and Rob Williamson as members of the ruling tribune; Don Hayden as Menenius, mentor to Coriolanus, who discovers that loyalty extends only so far when a man is out for vengeance; and Jackie Rouse and Connor Dick in two lesser but well-crafted roles as Valeria and Titus Lartius.

What fault there is with this adaptation is that it doesn’t appear to have been completely thought out. Set in a Slavic nation, it nevertheless holds out Rome as the prize to be claimed or saved. That was Shakespeare’s decision because his tale was largely based on the story found in Plutarch’s “The Lives of the Nobel Grecians and Romans” as translated by Thomas North. Perhaps it was easier to as much of Shakespeare’s words as possible, but the geography just doesn’t work here.

“Coriolanus” is presented at 8pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through May 30 at the Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd. Tickets are $10 on Thrifty Thursday and $14-$20 on other days. For more information, call: (916) 960-3036 or go to bigideatheatre.org.

Next up at BIT is a production of Jean Paul Sartre’s “No Exit”, and later in the year, Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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