Making its debut, Rebel Kat Productions’ staging of “Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch” features an all-female cast in Shakespeare’s thorny vision of the inextricably linked worlds of politics and the military.
Having doubts about William Shakespeare’s relevance to present-day politics? “Coriolanus” will quickly dispatch those.
Returned home from victory in battle, Roman general Caius Martius is persuaded to run for political office, and despite the general’s denigrations of the working class, its members feel compelled to support him.
In an early scene, a citizen proclaims, “If he show us his wounds and tell us his deeds, we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them. So, if he tell us his noble deeds, we must also tell him our noble acceptance of them.”
‘Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch’
Through Saturday, Nov. 18, 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $35 (rebelkat.net).
Last week, in response to questions about Chief of Staff John Kelly’s false claim about a U.S. representative, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you, but I think that — if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”
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Patriotism as cudgel isn’t new.
Shakespeare’s vision of the inextricably linked worlds of politics and the military makes for a fascinating, thorny work, and it’s not often staged. (Seattle Shakespeare has mounted “Coriolanus” just once, in 2012.)
Making its debut, Rebel Kat Productions’ staging of “Coriolanus” (subtitle: “Fight Like a Bitch”) features an all-female cast, and unlike most gender-reversed castings, the women aren’t merely playing male roles. All of the characters have been changed to women, with pronoun adjustments to match.
This is far from a gimmick. Aside from the music (pulsing electronic beats during scene changes and — ugh — Imagine Dragons tunes at intermission) this is largely a faithful classical adaptation, directed with clear-cut precision by Emily Penick. There is no winking about the fact that these traditionally male characters are now female — and there shouldn’t be. Every soldier, senator and lover is fully inhabited.
Starring as Caius Martius, the general who earns the honorific Coriolanus for her military feats, is Nike Imoru, who’s performed in upstart crow collective’s all-female Shakespeare plays and included scenes from “King Lear” and “Macbeth” in her autobiographical solo show “Ode.”
Here, she tears into a lead Shakespeare role with swaggering authority. “What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues?” she snarls at the plebeians as she takes the stage for the first time. Her contempt for those beneath her radiates from her being. Imoru shades this bluster with brief flashes of pathetic insecurity — just enough to complicate a character whose inner life is mostly absent in Shakespeare’s writing.
Whether she’s decrying her adversaries or laying hands on them in Penick’s dance-like fight choreography, Imoru owns this stage — a long catwalk in Julia Welch’s stark-white scenic design — but she’s accompanied by a host of able performers.
Wendy Robie (“Twin Peaks”) sidesteps the obvious histrionic choices as Coriolanus’ manipulative mother, Volumina, the mechanics of her machinations barely perceptible beneath a facade of dignified grace. (When she reveals her true self, her disposition becomes even cooler.)
Among the political set, tribunes Sicinius (Katherine Jett, who also adapted the script as dramaturge) and Brutus (Yadira Duarte) snipe quietly at Coriolanus. The two are basically attached at the hip, forever whispering ominously. As the senator Menenius, Kate Witt is a constant state of near-panic — necessary when you’re a lonely supporter of a mercurial, violent general.
The play’s most intriguing relationship is between Coriolanus and Aufidius (Colleen Carey), the general of the rival Volscian army and Coriolanus’ archenemy, then ally. Carey’s performance has an opaque quality that keeps her character’s intentions murky, allowing Imoru’s brash Coriolanus to project her own feelings onto her.
For Coriolanus, it’s not a struggle to envision Aufidius’ seamless transition from a hated foe to a partner in revenge. But it’s not clear that Aufidius ever fully buys in. In this telling, Coriolanus’ overestimation of her own savvy is a tragic flaw.