Friday, November 16, 2012

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare, Trinity Street Players, November 2 - 18

AustinLiveTheatre reviewCoriolanus Trinity Street Players Kevin Gates Austin TX

by Michael Meigs

In his March 2010 profile of Austin theatre for World Theatre Day, Austin Chronicle arts editor and theatre artist Robert Faires noted that certain works, including Shakespeare's 'Scottish play' and A Midsummer Night's Dream, "circle round again and again like pop songs in heavy rotation. In fact, Austin theatre companies have a curious tendency to remount all kinds of plays that were staged in the area within the past 10 or so years, as if it were part of the city’s recycling effort."

That hasn't changed, as least as far as those Shakespeare stalwarts are concerned. Since that time Austin Live Theatre has noted stagings of Macbeth and Macbeth take-offs by Philip Kreyche, the Sam Bass Youth Guild, a 20-minute version by Robert Deike for the 2012 FronteraFest, the Proxy Theatre in San Antonio, a 1930's gangster style version at the EmilyAnn Theatre in Wimberley and -- now entering its final weekend -- Trouble Puppet Theatre company's Toil and Trouble in which Zac Crofford speaks for the Macbeth puppet as he animates the bloody thane.

In like wise, there's been a surfeit of cavorting of the original rude mechanicals on their midsummer nights: following those of the Baron's Men at the Curtain Theatre in September, 2010, in 2011 there came Shakespeare in Winedale, Playhouse Smithville, the Weird Sisters Theatre Collective, and Actors from the London Stage. This year has seen the rudes riffed in Will Hollis Snider's Messenger #4 and a wheeled outdoor production by the Austin Bike Zoo; San Antonio's Woodlawn Theatre will do it next year. High school productions were offered in Dripping Springs and Cedar Park, and Austin High School's Red Dragon Players are doing A Midsummer Night's Dream this week.

The Trinity Street Players have moved beyond the comfortable confines of the twentieth century with Coriolanus, and they've crafted an impressive and exciting production. There's much food for thought here, as well as the pleasure of witnessing a strong story well told. 

But now we're seeing a more adventurous exploration of the Shakespeare canon, thanks to Kevin Gates and a determined band of relatively young Austin Shakespearians. Gates has the lead as Caius Marcus Coriolanus in a vigorous modern dress production about to wind up a three-weekend run at the black box theatre at the First Baptist Church used by the Trinity Street Players. 

And auditions have just been held for the equally infrequently performed Richard II, to be staged at the Elizabethan-style outdoor Curtain Theatre in February-March, 2013. Gates and Aaron Black will both play protagonist Richard and antagonist Bolingbroke, with each night's assignment of roles to be determined by a coin toss. The ad hoc company calls itself The Poor Shadows of Elysium -- from the epithet used in Act V of Cymbeline by Jupiter as he descends from the heavens, seated on an eagle and throwing a thunderbolt.

Does this all sound a bit too obscure and brainy for the Austin public? Perhaps -- but given the evidence provided with Coriolanus, directed by Bridget Farias, the Gates/Black head-to-head promises to be thrilling, both for the plebes seeking entertainment and the patricians enamored of Shakespeare's language and vast inventiveness. 

Directing Richard II will be Christina Gutierrez, Ph.D candidate at UT who has done dramaturgy for Austin Shakespeare and others, including this production, and who directed the late Elizabethan revenge tragedy 'Tis Pity She's A Whore by John Ford, staged last year at the Cathedral of Junk. Gates, seeing the writing on his personal wall, has begun a Ph.D. program at Texas State University, commuting for classes but working in Austin, where he just directed Marlowe's Doctor Faustus for the Last Act Theatre Company. These are serious and capable folks, people who know how to interpret and deliver classic drama.

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