I think that I summed up my response to Atlanta Shakespeare’s production of “Coriolanus” best when I told my companion for the evening that I enjoyed the performance but not the interpretation. The way that Reeves directed it, it seems that he was trying to make Caius Martius stand against the plebeians of Rome out of humility. This, of course, makes absolutely no sense at all. Throughout the play, Martius is criticized for his pride. Indeed, it’s only when his mother shames him that he is willing to give up his attack on Rome. The character is, essentially, a (proto)fascist. He explicitly states that the people don’t deserve to eat because they are not soldiers, which is the only service that he deems worthy of praise. He only accepts adulations from other soldiers and rejects them even from the Senate. When Reeves has him awkwardly presenting himself to the people for approval, as though he were too humble to do so, he’s uttering curses at them, stating that this kind of kowtowing to the unwashed masses is anathema to him and he explicitly states that his request for their approval to be consul is deceitful. The words just don’t match the manner in which Reeves had Horne deliver them. There are other similar parts, such as when he appeals to Tullus Aufidius to allow him to join the Volscians to fight against Rome.
I also think that the same thing can be said of his mother, Volumnia, who is presented at times as a doting mother out of Yiddish vaudeville while speaking lines more appropriate to the mother in “The Manchurian Candidate.” This is a woman who chastised her daughter-in-law for showing worry at Martius’ going off to war instead of pride. Cline McKerley did an excellent job of playing the character, it was just the wrong character. The interpretation of the tribunes of the people as somewhat conniving and power hungry is also off, in my opinion. Some of what they say can be interpreted as such, but only when viewed from a perspective in a modern, representative republic. As representatives of the people, the tribunes would be their leaders and, as such, their prompting of the people was less a matter of them exercising their own power as representing the interests of the people, whom Martius cursed repeatedly.
Really, the whole theme of the play is pride and I think that Reeves missed that. It’s Martius’ pride that prevents him from relating to the plebeians; it’s his pride that causes him to lash out and be branded a traitor; and it’s his pride that causes him to try to join the enemy in fighting Rome. Even Aufidius states that his pride is a bit too much and that he will have to be taken down to size once his role in fighting Rome is served. Reeve’s sympathetic treatment of the character ultimately made the play sympathetic to fascism and, although it was enjoyable to watch, it made a lot less sense that way.