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Praxis Stage gives ‘Coriolanus’ a contemporary makeover

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Praxis Stage gives ‘Coriolanus’ a contemporary makeover
Zair Silva playing Coriolanus (right) fights Jonah Toussaint playing Aufidieus (left) during a rehearsal. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Praxis Stage is yet again twisting theater on its head with a new production of “Coriolanus” by William Shakespeare, running at Little House in Dorchester Oct. 17 through Nov. 3. Featuring a diverse cast and a futuristic setting, the show takes a classic Roman-era tragedy and makes it poignant and unsettling for a contemporary audience.

The show centers on Rome, where political changes and resource shortages cause a re-evaluation of the government structure. Feeling the heat from rioting townspeople is Coriolanus, an army general, who struggles to find his place politically and in the military conflicts that ensue, and ultimately ends up alienating both sides. 

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Part of Praxis Stage’s 2019-2020 Shakespeare season, “Coriolanus” is a complicated story, but co-director Daniel Boudreau explains, “The particular plays we’re choosing are about power and its consequences on people’s lives, the crushers and the crush-ees.”

In the Praxis adaptation, the action takes place in the year 2049. Co-director Audrey Seraphin says this was a very specific choice. “According to census data, that is the year the U.S. is poised to be a majority POC nation. White people will no longer be the majority,” she says. “We really intentionally cast it to reflect that. We feature a really diverse ensemble, but very intentionally cast all the patricians and the nobility in general as people of color.” In this new futuristic setting, the implications of the play take on a contemporary context. For example, Seraphin suggests the grain shortage could be because of environmental burnout.

The diversity of the production is what drew many of the cast members to the show and it shines a complicated light on the plot. What was historically a battle among white Roman-era factions is now a battle shaded with race.

It’s also been an opportunity to upend tradition. Thomika Bridwell plays Roman general Titus Lartius, but she plays him as a black woman. This brings a new dynamism to the character, alluding to decisions she has made to pursue a life in her calling in the military. Bridwell says, “What I love is that we’re able to see an array of women. Women are not just portrayed in one light. We’re really showing that women have the choice to be whatever it is they imagine they can be.”

As is the mission of Praxis Stage, the show uproots theater from its typical location downtown and brings it into surrounding communities. Little House, at 275 East Cottage St. in Dorchester, is not only aesthetically stunning, but impactful for the community that has long seen it as a center of education and personal growth.

Karimah Williams, who plays Valeria says, “Coming in and seeing the diversity as far as color, as far as age, as far as experience, that is always really attractive, and to be a part of a community that reflects the world we live in and the world that I really, really want to make sure my kids come up in.”

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