FREIHEIT MAKES A STAND
REVIEWED BY ERIC GRODE
"Freiheit Makes a Stand," playing as part of the Peculiar Works Project's At Odds festival, tries so many different things in so many different ways that a few ideas can't help but succeed. The production's intelligence and eclecticism carry it for a while, but the overall effect is numbing.
Writer-director Barry Rowell tells the story of Coriolanus -- sort of. This time, though, the Roman general and his beloved mother are holed up in a Ruby Ridge-like compound, sur-rounded by government agents.
Throw in some sitar music, a snarling Ken doll, conspiracy theories, a conga-line and a game show. Mix it all up with some chunks of Shakespeare, and you're left with a bit of a mess, albeit an intriguing, sometimes thought-provoking mess.
Rowell almost seems not to trust any one concept enough, and the different moods undercut rather than amplify each other. (One central concept, a series of videotaped sequences, is almost completely unintelligible.)
The cast is largely up to the different styles. As Aufidius, the head government agent, Ernest Abuba easily stands out, and he is ably supported by Richard Sheinmel (in the title role), Randy Lake and Jacki Goldhammer. Darting between Shakespearean verse and just about every other performing style, they bring a much-needed sense of cohesion to the production, as do David Castaneda's lighting and especially Jacob Harlow's sets. And David Lynch's intricate meld of Eastern and Western music is always welcome.
Of all the recent Shakespearean updatings, putting Coriolanus in a militia is an unusually relevant one. But less may well be more here; even the best ideas need some room to breathe.
Presented by Peculiar Works Project at the Vineyard's 26th Street Theatre, 309 E. 26th St., NYC, Aug. 12-Sept. 1.