Shakespeare, sword fights and controversy highlight the main stage finale by East Carolina University’s Loessin Playhouse.
Opening April 23, “The Tragedy of Coriolanus” by William Shakespeare may not be as well-known as his other Roman tragedies but it’s just as rich and complex as more familiar plays, said director John Shearin.
The story follows Caius Martius Coriolanus, who returns from war as a hero and candidate for public office. He eventually is banished for making controversial statements about the Roman commoners before returning as head of the Volsces, an emerging Republic fighting with his native Rome. After Coriolanus’ rise to power, a rival turns on him with disastrous consequences.
Thirty-one actors make up the cast and dozens work behind the scenes in design, technical direction, stage management and crew.
ECU student Anne-Marie Kennedy performs in the production of Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Coriolanus."
“This cast is a little larger than the norm because this show demands it,” Shearin said. “If you want to get the most out of the fight scenes and the conflicts among citizens, you need the numbers to carry the day.”
The set features multiple levels with many nooks and crannies to showcase a ruined land amid the battle between the Romans and Volscian as well as conflicts between Roman patricians and citizens, who are starving in a war-torn country and rioting for food and grain.
ECU senior Alan Chandler, who plays Coriolanus, said it’s the most difficult role he’s had. “His complexity is infinite,” Chandler said. “He requires a great deal of strength and hardness, being a rather stubborn warrior with a one-sided point of view of the difference between himself and the lowly poor citizens.”
Shearin said Coriolanus is “imperious and rigid in his views of class, status and privilege, but incredibly brave and a great soldier who cares deeply about his country. He’s so rigid that he’s difficult to like.”
Despite Coriolanus’ nature, Shearin has been impressed by Chandler’s ability to bring sympathy to the role. “He’s not unfaithful to the part but he’s managed to find wonderful moments. He’s been able to find love and respect, particularly with friends and family,” Shearin said.
The actors also have worked hard to express intense, passionate dialogue reflecting the politics of the time, whose themes spill over to today, Chandler said.
“It’s terribly pertinent to the conflicts happening today and the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ ” Shearin said.
ECU produces a classical title about every three years to give students an opportunity to be involved with that style of work, Shearin said. “It’s so important to theater education,” he said. “We want our students to have the experience.”
It is Chandler’s first Shakespearian role, he said. “People get doctoral degrees in Shakespeare studies for a reason, because the difficulty in adequately expressing Shakespeare’s true intentions is not to be approached lightly,” said Chandler, a professional acting major from Raleigh.
“I love doing Shakespeare,” Shearin said. “He’s so good on every level. His plays maintain relevance because of his own amazing mind.”
The production runs April 23-28 in McGinnis Theatre. Performances are at 8 p.m. except 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $15 for general admission or $12 for ECU students and youth. Call 252-328-6829 or go to www.ECUARTS.com for more information.
Pictured below, ECU students Matty Reda, left, and Cate Kessler perform a sword fight in the Shakespearian tragedy.