Coriolanus The Hypocrites

"★★★...O'Connell brings raw and palpable sense of a man uneasy in his skin" - K. Reid, Chicago Tribune

"immensely satisfying" - A. Williams, Chicago Reader  

"★★★★...thrillingly realized" - Z. Thompson, TimeOut Chicago

"sumptuous dance of light, scenery and subtle performance" - J. Oleksinski, NewCity Chicago


Fri, Sat., Mon 730pm.  Sun 3pm

Tickets $28 @ 773-525-5991

03/06/13 - 04/23/13

Fri & Sat 730p; Sun 3p; Mon 730p

Three Stars - Shakespeare's Coriolanus is a man most at home on a battlefield.  Kerry Reid, Chicago Tribune 3/11/13.  "If the truculent titular warrior in Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" has a parallel in American politics, it might be Richard Nixon — he who, in 1962, growled "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" after losing a bruising fight for the California governorship.

True, Nixon didn't boast actual battle scars, unlike Caius Martius (dubbed "Coriolanus" after his near-singlehanded defeat of the Volscians at Corioli). But the disdain for popular opinion and attachment to personal grudges that proved Nixon's undoing can easily be found in Shakespeare's protagonist, who kisses off the good opinion of the Roman hoi polloi by saying "Better it is to die, to starve, than crave the hire which first we do deserve."

Geoff Button's smartly paced staging for the Hypocrites doesn't go that far into modern-dress interpretation. Indeed, the loud plaid accents and waistcoats designed by Jeremy Floyd for the Roman operatives scheming against the conquering hero's political ambitions make them look like post-Civil War carpetbaggers. Thus, the appearance of Steve O'Connell's Coriolanus in "the customary gown" of Roman antiquity required for office-seekers becomes a source of humiliation and anger for him. Trust me, you don't want to see Coriolanus angry — you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Of course, the tragedy for Coriolanus is that you sense he could hate just about anyone or anything if he set his mind to it. He is only at peace with himself when he is at war — certainly not when he's back home in the clutches of his creepy domineering mother, Volumnia (a deliciously spider-like Donna McGough) or pleading his case for being elected consul to the common rabble, who care only about the price of corn. (In a running gag, Button has the trio representing the Roman citizens appear clutching different iterations of the coveted foodstuff — on the cob, popcorn, and of course corndogs).

But the central problem for this play is that, unlike all the other Shakespearean tragedies, we really don't have anyone onstage with whose struggle we can identify. Coriolanus is a fighter, not a thinker, and he lacks even the twisted — but entirely human — ambition and guilt that can make murderous Macbeth a figure of both horror and sympathy.

By amping up the homoerotic attraction between Coriolanus and the Volscian general, Aufidius (Jude Roche), Button adds a layer of pathos tinged with camp. Their big fight scene puts the "lust" in "bloodlust, and in fact, Ryan Bourque's fight choreography in the tight in-the-round configuration offers consistent visceral thrills.

Despite the character's lack of self-reflection, O'Connell brings a raw and palpable sense of a man uneasy in his skin unless it's covered with blood — that of his own or a foe. Greg Hardigan and Ryan Bollettino as the smarmy tribunes, Junius Brutus and Sicinius Velutus, provide insinuating comic relief along with "Citizens Ryan, Luke, and Chris" (Bourque, Luke Couzens and Chris Chmelik), they of the aforementioned appetite for corn. William Boles' set design, featuring a tangled web of branches and rope encircling the audience while a mist envelops the stage, brings the fog of war home, as does Jared Moore's crepuscular lighting.

This "Coriolanus" works best in parts rather than as a unified whole. But then again — that could also be said about its wholly reactive protagonist, whose notions of honor are tainted by his Nixonian struggle toward power and respect".

Coriolanus - Albert Williams, Chicago Reader 3/13/13.   "The Hypocrites' gripping modern-dress staging of Shakespeare's tragedy—about an ancient Roman war hero and political leader who joins forces with his nation's enemies after his own people denounce him as a tyrant—is everything Shakespeare should be. The muscular verse is spoken eloquently and urgently; the combat scenes are exciting and tightly choreographed; the performances are full-blooded, detailed, and psychologically complex; and the visual design (which places the audience in the middle of the action) inventively supports the story's jacknife mood changes. Director Geoff Button and his 12-person cast—notably Steve O'Connell in the title role, Jude Roche as his foe-turned-friend, and Donna McGough as his domineering mother—skillfully balance classical and contemporary elements in this immensely satisfying production".



Four Stars - Coriolanus: Shakespeare’s portrait of Roman politics feels thrillingly modern in Geoff Button’s staging for the Hypocrites.  Zac Thompson, TimeOut Chicago 3/14/13.  "Accomplishing something impressive is no guarantee of popularity—just look at Anne Hathaway. We the people generally prefer our public figures to be not only exceptional in some way but also relatable. Larger-than-life yet down-to-earth. William Shakespeare presents a sophisticated and strikingly modern dramatization of this dynamic in Coriolanus, a late-career tragedy that’s thrillingly realized here by the Hypocrites.

Roman warrior Caius Martius Coriolanus (a ferocious Steve O’Connell) is a brave and brutally effective soldier, but he’s a lousy politician. Proud by nature and uncomfortable in the spotlight, he simply can’t bring himself to grovel to the plebes, no matter the effect on his career. Consequently, the people turn on their hero, who further hurts his cause by publicly cursing the masses in language that makes Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remarks sound like The Communist Manifesto.

In Geoff Button’s staging, Rome is a powder keg threatening to blow at any moment, thanks to the charlatans in charge and the hooligans both within and without. Coriolanus has no reliable guide through this minefield—not even his honor-obsessed mother (a tough-as-nails Donna McGough). In fact, his strongest connection is with his chief rival in combat, Aufidius (Jude Roche), perhaps because he too is more comfortable with taking action than managing his image. As in the 2011 movie adaptation, it’s a decidedly homoerotic connection, intensified by O’Connell and Roche’s palpable chemistry and the downright steamy hand-to-hand combat designed by fight choreographer Ryan Bourque



Coriolanus - Johnny Oleksinski, NewChity Chicago 3/14/13.  ""I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me,” said war-hero-turned-president Andrew Jackson, a man whose personal and political lives were both defined by tumult. His ferocious worldview would surely be echoed by the vicious though resoundingly human title character of William Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” which is receiving an ideal production by The Hypocrites at the Chopin Theatre.

Entering a space covered in soft, gray carpet imparts an illusion of ease. Maybe the bounce of your foot against the plush floor will mimic the play’s own delighted buoyancy of language and plot. Not so in this basement battlefield.   I imagine scenic designer William Boles has included the cushioned flooring to muffle the actors’ blunt bodily impacts against the unforgiving cement ground, as this is an intensely violent staging of “Coriolanus”: already an intensely violent play about a Roman general-turned-consul. There’s something unnervingly primal about the absence of special effects in Ryan Bourque’s fights. His full-contact slaps and knees to the stomach make those bystanders seated in the front row lean back, for fear they might be unwillingly dragged across that carpet by some blood-thirsty rogue.

Yes, the panoply of war is excitedly and engagingly staged, but only as forcibly as Shakespeare’s language is delivered in Geoff Button’s production of this infrequently performed play. Truthfully, as directed by Button, “Coriolanus” is a far more resonant leader’s-fall-from-grace play than Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s concurrently running “Julius Caesar” is, and “Coriolanus” unquestionably presents the more imposing challenge of the two.

Marcus Brutus has the benefit of time, text and context (Who, Latin student or “Real Housewives” fanatic, doesn’t know “Et tu, Brute?”?) to relate himself to us, but Caius Martius Coriolanus is granted hardly any rest or reflection by Shakespeare; he’s whisked around from event to event, well, like a modern-day president. Perhaps in today’s political landscape, so volatile in its turnovers, Coriolanus has become the more recognizable figure.

Xcf5lcDZmGb5P_5BldgxeEq2-KhVW9tV8j73ziT9whIButton has trimmed the play to an hour and forty-five minutes allowing for no intermission as the tragedy would’ve been originally ingested. The abbreviation comes not, however, at the cost of clarity or character development; the play advances aggressively with nary a breath taken between scenes, but every citizen, tribune (Ryan Bollettino and Greg Hardigan), friend and enemy are all distinct and memorable presences.

Particularly cunning is the reduction of the plebian crowds to a wisecracking three actors (Bourque, Luke Couzens and Chris Chmelik). Absentmindedly snacking on boiled corn, corn dogs and popcorn (a nod to their enraged chant, “Let us kill him, and we’ll have corn at our own price”) as they determine the fickle will of the people, the trio acts as a comedic counter to Steve O’Connell’s agonized Coriolanus, brutishly performed without a politic or artful drop of blood in his body. Through his honest frustration, swift vengeance and childish gullibility, O’Connell unwittingly transforms into a history book’s everypolitician.

All of the performances are allowed to shine brighter than any scene-stealing conceptual artifice, for there really isn’t one to speak of. Jeremy Floyd’s  costumes, while denoting class—the tribunes look like comic Irish mayors and the citizens are brown vest-clad ragamuffins—have no obvious marks of time or place. Boles’ branch-strewn set fills the theater with raised wooden walkways placed behind all four sections of seating and Jared Moore’s lighting perfectly builds opulent and grizzly locations while always evoking titillating suspense and dread.

During one tense encounter, the banished Coriolanus arrives at the dwelling of former wartime foe the Volscian Aufidius (Jude Roche), hooded and with his bearded face shadowed. Only his obfuscated silhouette is visible while Aufidius, imbued with Roche’s confident conversational terror, begs of Coriolanus his identity. The scene is a sumptuous dance of light, scenery and subtle performance that disconcertingly reminds us that quiet, unforced speech is an endangered species for so many indecently bravado Shakespearean productions."

From The Hypocrites - Coriolanus is a brutal, romantic epic about the demands made of warriors, and the necessary limits they place on their own self-sacrifice. Central to that story is the deeply complicated relationship between the Roman Caius Martius Coriolanus and his mortal enemy. After sacrificing every part of himself for the benefit of his city, only to have it turn against him, Coriolanus goes on a quest for vengeance that leads instead to self-discovery, and then to tragedy.

Shakespeare's most under-appreciated tragedy is written in clean, aggressive language and is shaped around a psychologically complex hero who, in stark contrast to someone like Hamlet, loathes self-analysis and longs instead to be defined entirely by his actions. Button says "An exciting part of this process has been trying to take this sprawling epic and shape it into a swift and sharp one-act that's respectful of both the language and the themes of Shakespeare's play. We're also lucky to have an amazing group of actors who are equally good at executing elaborate and brutal fight scenes, creating vivid characters, and, hopefully, creating a shifting political landscape with both clarity and humor."

More information - 773.989.7352

William Shakespeare

Geoff Button

Ryan Bolletino; Lindsey Gavel; Greg Hardigan; Matt Kahler; Eric Leonard; Donna McGough; Rob McLean; Steve O’Connell; Jude Roche; Ryan Bourque; Chris Chmelik; Luke Couzens

Stage Manager - Miranda Anderson; Set Designer - William Boles; Costume Designer - Jeremy Floyd; Light Designer - Jared Moore; Fight Choreography - Ryan Bourque; Sound/Music Designer - Kevin O’Donnell

Tags: Theater, Old Europe, 2013