The end of the world seems more and more imminent with each news update, and Portland's theater scene is no exception. In fact, an unnerving coincidence is unfolding right now: During the dead season of summer theater, the most obscure work that Shakespeare ever wrote is being staged by two companies simultaneously.
Hillsboro's Bag & Baggage is putting on an all-female production that is the first U.S. performance of Thomas Sheridan's adaptation. The show is propelled by the explosive energy of Cassie Greer as Roman general Caius Marcius. Portland Actors Ensemble presents its version in Pettygrove Park. It is a less compelling show, but one that incorporates selfies and Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons."
Coriolanus probably never made it to the stage during Shakespeare's lifetime. The Roman political drama's first recorded performance happened, ominously, 66 years after the Bard's death.
Since that 1682 production, critics have largely overlooked the tale of a pugnacious war hero and his ill-fated pursuit of political office. Maybe that is due to what we're dubbing the "Coriolanus curse," a trend of Coriolanus call-outs coinciding with startling historical catastrophes.
Two years after the Bolshevik Revolution forced the Russian Empire out of the First World War in 1917, T. S. Eliot wrote an essay titled "Hamlet and His Problems," insisting that Coriolanus is a greater artistic success than Hamlet. Jump ahead a few decades to 1938, when Laurence Olivier starred in a high-profile production of the play at the Old Vic in London. Two years later, on July 10, 1940, Hitler started bombing England in what would become known as the Battle of Britain, expanding the theater of the war.
While idle skeptics may dismiss these connections as mere coincidences, the two-year pattern continues. Shakespeare himself died on May 3, 1616. Just two years later marked the start of the Thirty Years' War, one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, claiming millions of lives.
And while the play floated along in obscurity for decades following Olivier's performance, Tom Hiddleston took a turn as old Caius Marcius in 2014 for National Theater Live. Two years later, Taylor Swift was spotted canoodling with the General, and on July 18, 2016, the #KimExposedTaylorParty cemented Hiddleston's status as collateral damage from the Molotov cocktail that is this KanTay feud.
Forget Macbeth—the curse of Coriolanus is alive, sheeple, and we are its next victims.
See it: Portland Actors Ensemble's Coriolanus is at Pettygrove Park, Southwest 2nd Avenue and Harrison Street. 7 pm Thursday-Saturday, July 21-23. Free. Bag & Baggage's Coriolanus, or the Roman Matron is at the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, 150 E Main St., Hillsboro. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, July 21-23. $20.