Notes on 'Coriolano'

1.

That it's difficult to pin down his tragic flaw tells of the ambiguity that Marco Viaña strives for in his portrayal of Cayo Marcio (Caius Marcius), William Shakespeare's lesser known hero in the lesser known tragedy, Coriolanus.

2.

A quick summary:

After frustrating Volscian General Tulo Aufidio in a war in the City of Corioli, Patrician Soldier Marcio is dubbed "Coriolano" and later on nominated for Consulship by the Roman Senate. The position entails soliciting votes — a frivolous practice in Coriolano's eyes.

With much prodding from his confidant, Menenio Agripa (who is also a Roman Senator), Coriolano relents and eventually gathers enough votes to become Consul. Meanwhile, Tribunes Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto (his disapproving rivals) have persuaded the Plebeians to rescind their "voice".

The turnaround drives Coriolano into verbal, almost violent outrage. His people, in turn, banish him from Rome. Now vengeful, he seeks Aufidio and together they plot the destruction of his home.

Upon hearing news of the impending assault, Menenio tries to talk sense into our protagonist, though without any success. In the end, only his mother, Volumnia is able to get through Coriolano, compelling him to make peace with the Romans.

Along with a group of Volscians, Aufidio kills Coriolano for thwarting their plans.

Brian Sy and Marco Viaña are Aufidio and Coriolano, respectively in Tanghalang Pilipino's production of Corialono.


3.

As a warrior of noble descent, Viaña's Coriolano is powerful and fearless. As a politician, he is stubborn with zero charisma. He refuses to sell himself by showing his battle scars and pandering to the common man, whom he despises in the first place.

He operates on pure emotion. What we may call nowadays as being "(too) true to oneself", behaving with neither malice nor hidden agenda. One moment he is ready to slay everyone, including his friends and family — whom he'll be lost without; another moment he is on his knees, crying.

This is the tragedy: For all his strength and status, Coriolano remains a small, laughable force against his circumstances. Of course he has agency, but he reacts rather than acts. Aufidio hits the nail on the head when he deems Coriolano lacking in smarts. To go further, in introspection. And perhaps this is his undoing.

4.

Coriolano's pliant nature extends to the entire play. Some productions are said to deliberately pull the material in the same direction as the show-runners' socio-political leanings. In 1930's France, a pro-fascist staging of the tragedy at the Comédie-Française has caused riots. Remarkably, audiences have also received the performance as campaign for communism.

Guelan Varela-Luarca's Filipino translation of Coriolanus is currently enjoying its run at the CCP Little Theater, with weekday and weekend performances until 17 March — roughly two months before the Philippine Senate Elections. The timing is clever but director Carlos Siguion-Reyna has no intentions of using Coriolano as his own propaganda piece. Instead he aims to offer an unbiased interpretation, noting that their job is to "make the audience act; not act for the audience".

JV Ibesate and Doray Dayao are Tribunes Sicinio and Junio.


5.

Wow, people are stupid. Watching Act I is like being in front of a mirror. How easily the Plebeians are swayed by the slightest (but labored) lip service by Coriolano, and swayed back again by manipulative Tribunes. In this chain of events, we are reminded of how goodness and competency are not enough to have the honor of serving your fellow men; playing the game is imperative.

By comparison, Act II feels truncated. Coriolano's team-up with former adversary, Aufidio (Brian Sy) is convincing, given the former's impulsiveness and the latter's cunning. But because Sy lends a level-headedness to Aufidio, it's hard to find his motivation for taking Coriolano down when peace has been established between the two camps.

Unlike typical stories that rise up to a climax, Coriolano moves in a rather circular motion, the characters changing minds and allegiances, and thereupon fates several times throughout the narrative. Come our hero's downfall, the audience will do well to take their affective cue from Aufidio as the antagonist who hates and admires Coriolano. Our sympathy should be with the Volscian, yet his person is hardly fleshed out. As a result, Coriolano's demise hardly makes an impact.

This is an unfortunate flaw of the local production: Aufidio's attitude towards Coriolano is likely more complex than what a couple of scenes would allow to explore.

6.

Sherry Lara owns the stage. There’s palpable silence in the theater whenever she, taking on the role of Volumnia, opens her mouth.

Jonathan Tadioan as Menenio injects a welcome lightheartedness to the show.

Jonathan Tadioan and Sherry Lara


7.

It's been a long while since I've seen a Shakespeare play onstage. Coriolanus, hailed by TS Eliot as the bard's finest, is a pleasant re-introduction. Will it make you a wiser citizen? Better leader? A good child? Definitely not. Though it can be a gateway to Shakespeare's world and his contemporaries'. Or to Literature itself, which is never a bad thing.

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