‘Coriolanus’ director talks about the timelessness of Shakespeare

Did Shakespeare’s stage directions really call for the character to hoist a machine gun into the air? Probably not, but it’s adaptation, people!

Incompetent leaders, tension between the government and the people, revolt: This sounds like excerpts from recent news headlines, but they’re actually themes in a play written 400 years ago.

“Every time we rehearse a scene we come upon something that was literally pulled right out of the contemporary political discourse,” says Steven Maler, director of this summer’s annual Shakespeare on the Common production, “Coriolanus.”

A year and a half ago, Maler was teaching a theater workshop at the University of Jordan when the Arab Spring — a wave of protests across the Middle East, from Egypt to Syria to Tunisia — exploded.
“I felt surrounded by that energy of people redefining their lives,” says Maler, who is responsible for picking each summer’s show. “The power of the populace in this play really resonated very powerfully with me. We see it in our own country through the Occupy Movement, this idea of revolt against the establishment.”

How could Shakespeare possibly be in tune with today’s conflict?

“It’s shocking,” admits Maler. “The cliché about Shakespeare is that his plays ‘feel like they were written yesterday.’”

“Coriolanus” is about a military general who leads Rome’s citizens on a mutiny during a food shortage. After their victory, the citizens vote him as their leader. But it turns out Coriolanus is a disastrous political ruler.

Perhaps modern-day politicians could benefit from seeing this show.

Free the people

In its 17th year, Shakespeare on the Common is still free. “Everybody, regardless of ability to afford the ever-increasing ticket prices of the theater, can go out and appreciate this,” says Maler. That sounds like something from Shakespeare’s time!


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