Staged Reading Of A New Play At The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop

I’d had a ticket for this, but then the blizzard came and it was rescheduled. It wasn’t a full on production but a staged reading of a new play titled First Citizen, presenting the little performed Shakespeare play, Coriolanus, from (mostly) the point of view of four ‘citizens’ who more or less represented different classes and different political viewpoints. Rather like Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the play interspersed actual dialogue from Shakespeare with the new dialogue of First Citizen. Afterwards, was a talk back session; I had been expecting it to be more question and answer, but it was more like an open critique.

Some of the critiques I disagreed with, especially since most centered around historicity. Whether characters accurately reflected socio-economic realities of that time (late Republic) of Roman history. Whether we needed more background on Roman politics (what are the roles of the Consul and Tribunes?).

My personal response was different. As to historicity, first of all, it’s in dialogue with Shakepeare who, despite writing plays known as ‘history plays,’ should not be considered a historical source, so let’s not ask it to be historically accurate (but let’s do ask it to be presently relevant). Secondly, knowing some of the basics of the political system of one of the founding civilizations of what we know as western civilization is not, actually, too much to ask. I don’t want to get into (relevant) questions of euro-centrism in education, but knowing the barest minimum about the Roman Republic is pretty basic stuff (and does not preclude nor exclude also having a basic knowledge about Imperial China’s bureaucratic system).

On the positive side, the play handled political questions well. It was a political play about the best path for change that benefits the mass of people and it did an excellent job of not reaching conclusions, by which I mean, every point of view was challenged, so that the audience was denied a pat, self-satisfied answer and was instead given more questions.

On the negative, and it’s a small point, I thought that the non-‘direct from Coriolanus‘ dialogue was too much in the middle. It bounced a bit between colloquial and vaguely Shakespearean. Don’t try to compete, I say. I would have liked the original dialogue to be more colloquial and more modern in tone.

But really good and if it is put on around here, I would go see it.

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