Coriolanus, on the Boston Common (Photo: Tamir Kalifa for the Boston Globe)

How invigorating to revisit something you thought you knew (and might have dismissed as “been there, done that”) and find it utterly compelling. That was my response after seeing the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Coriolanus last night. Not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, this wasn’t an evening I was expecting to offer as powerful a punch as Steven Maler‘s previous Shakespeare on the Common productions (Last year’s All’s Well that Ends Well, and Othello from 2010.)

But Maler’s instinct to direct this particular play at a time when our political discourse is so partisan and acrimonious is spot on. In Maler’s words:

Demonstrations in the street, politicians jockeying for the loyalty of the populace, consolidation of wealth, tension between the “have’s” and the have not’s” – 2011, right? No, this is the world of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, perhaps Shakespeare’s most political play. The play explores the quixotic and symbiotic connection between the governed and the governors – an issue echoing around the globe in the Arab Spring and in our 2012 presidential election. Coriolanus will capture the energy and passion of the community as we determine leadership of our country for the next four years.

Kudos all around. This production is taut and masterful. The casting is inspired, and both leads are better than any other production of this play I have seen previously. East Bridgewater native by way of Yale Drama School Nicholas Carreire has the physical stature so apropos for the willful Coriolanus (Carreire is a head taller than almost everyone else in the cast) and whenever he is on stage, you get a visceral sense of his unbridled will. Coriolanus is not a introspective character whose thoughts are shared through Hamlet-like soliloquies. He’s a force of nature, and Carreire plays that energy through to the end. Karen McDonald, one of the hardest working actors in Boston (and we are so lucky to have her here), is an unforgettable Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother. Maler, an accessible and engaging guy who can usually be seen out among the crowd before the performance begins, just keeps hitting it out of the park.

Coriolanus may not be on your Shakespeare’s Top Ten. But for those of you in or around Boston, do not miss this production. Playing through August 12.

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