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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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Seth Gilliam plays Othello

Theater alert for Bostonians and anyone who might be visiting town through August 15: Do whatever you need to do to your summer schedule to see the spectacular (and free!) production of Othello on the Boston Common.

We are regulars and have seen most of the Commonwealth Shakespeare productions over the last 15 years. But this one is the best ever. And it isn’t just my spillover passion for anything The Wire. Seth Gilliam (who played an unforgettable Ellis Carver in the greatest TV series ever) is rivetingly pitch perfect as the Moor. (Imagine how razor sharp your first circle/third circle—in the Patsy Rodenburg theatrical sense—edge must be to explode that Othelloian emotion without going too over the top, and to do it for an audience that stretches from the stage all to way to Tremont Street.) Tight and tough, Gilliam’s Othello is not the towering Moor that is often cast in this role but his energy is blinding. Iago, played by James Waterston (yes, he’s the son), captures the banality of evil with such force my poor partner Dave spent a sleepless night after encountering that ambient but essentially meaningless ill will. And the ladies held up their end as well, Marianna Bassham as Desdemona and a best ever Emelia played by Adrianne Krstansky. The sets are simple and elegant and also work with the large crowds that a free event on a summer evening attracts.

Don’t miss it.

For more info, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.