The Horror Honeys: A Night at the Theatre ~ Emily Penick’s 'Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch'

A Night at the Theatre ~ Emily Penick’s 'Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch'

All photos courtesy of Rebel Kat Productions' Facebook Page

A Theatre Review with Supernatural Honey Kim

One of the many reasons Shakespeare’s plays have endured as many years as they have is that the stories they tell are timeless. A pair of star-crossed lovers is something any teenager dating someone their parents disapprove of can identify with. King Lear doesn’t need to be your father for someone to relate to not being able to please a parent. And given the current political climate, who hasn’t wanted to listen to a few witches and take out a King? Yet Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare's later plays, also numbers among his lesser known. Partially because some of the dense political text can be hard for more modern audiences to sort through, yet when pared down and performed correctly, it reveals themes all too relevant to the current times.

Kate Witt as Menenius
Photo Credit: John Ullman
Director Emily Penick had her work cut out for her, yet she managed to create a truly unique piece of theatre in Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch. The choice to use an all-female cast as well as gender flip all male characters to female is done in a straightforward manner. There’s no additional commenting on it, it simply is. This choice was highly effective and by simply presenting this as the world of the play, meant the audience never questioned, but simply accepted the rules being presented to them.

After a successful battle against the Volscians, the Roman General Caius Martius (Nike Imoru) returns victorious. Convinced to run for office by her old friend Menenius (Kate Witt) and be granted the title of Coriolanus, she must gain the support of the people. Despite showing disdain for the citizens and their lack of military service, Martius manages to garner their unwavering support. However, the scheming Brutus (Yadira Duarte) and Sicinius (Katherine Jett) seek to ruin her and after riling Martius up and causing a riot, she is banished. Distraught and lost, she takes up sword with the very people she had fought against previously, the Volscians, and turns sword against Rome.

The strength of the performers is part of what makes this such a successful production. Kate Witt as the patrician Menenius steals every scene she is in. There is such humor and wit in her performance and she carries an amazing natural presence and charisma onstage. She is an utter delight to watch.

Ayo Tushinde as Citizen 1
Photo Credit: John Ullman
Coriolanus can be a problematic play because Caius Martius is often hard to sympathize or empathize with. Nike Imoru manages to make Caius a complex and flawed but very human character. She is a woman of strong convictions and used to bulldozing her way through challenges, a skill born on the battlefield. But she is also someone who is trying to do what, in her mind, is right and just and is supremely uncomfortable with the pomp that comes with her new role as Coriolanus.

Wendy Robie’s Volumnia, one of the few characters in the show originally written as a woman, brings such grace and ease to every beat. Robie is utterly at home on the stage and the naturalness in which she delivers the text makes every line clear. In a role that could become over the top and one dimensional, she brings a nuanced and moving performance.

Not to be overlooked, Yadira Duarte and Katherine Jett have a natural chemistry together. Colleen Carey brings her own strength and command to the stage as the rival general Aufidius. And Amanda Rae delivers a solid and moving performance as Aufidius’ Lieutenant.

Katherine Jett (L), Yadira Duarte (R), Corinne Magin (BG)
Photo Credit: John Ullman
The set by Julia Welch is styled as a runway, giving the actors the opportunity to play to the audience seated on both sides of the stage. There were moments when this was effective and moments where it was less so. Sometimes actors were placed in ways which blocked their actions or faces for long enough periods of time that moments were lost if you weren’t sitting in the right spot. But the stark whiteness allowed for some fun things to be done with lights and made the actions and costumes pop. Nova Dobrev’s costumes smartly highlight each character’s role in the show, and the details help audiences easily identify the different groups as they adjust to the unfamiliar text. The sound design by Josh Schmidt was also utterly fantastic. The choices of music and effects really highlighting and boosting the texts and moments.

That’s not to say it is a flawless production. There are some problems. The Citizens, reduced down to three actors, lack the volume and presence of a large crowd. There were times when the lack of additional actors made scenes lose some of their impact. The people’s power was not felt as strongly as it should have been, the “voice” often feeling too quiet and weak and not contrasting the power of the other actors enough. The moments that felt the most powerful were when the citizens were joined onstage by Brutus and Virgilia.

Kate Witt (L), Judith Shahn (C), Melissa Topscher (R)
Photo Credit: John Ullman
Some of the more stylized fighting also failed to land. In one of the opening fight scenes, there lacked any real danger or suspense. It didn’t land strong enough as a combat scene but didn’t feel fully like a moment of stylized fighting. Some of the other slow-motion scenes felt as though they needed to be pushed further.

In spite of some small issues, Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch has turned one of Shakespeare’s more challenging plays into something relevant and thought-provoking. Full of strong performances, it is well worth a trip to the theatre. As the premiere show from the new Rebel Kat, it’s exciting to see what else may come out of this new theatre company!

Coriolanus: Fight Like a Bitch will be performed through November 18 at the 12th Avenue Arts Mainstage in Seattle. Get your tickets here!