‘Coriolanus’ as video game scores big at Avant Bard and Longacre Lea

In a co-production that enhances both companies' reputation for pushing creative boundaries, Coriolanus has been turned into a human weapon.

William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus as a character in a video game? Well, his identity is wrapped up in being a soldier. He’s driven by mysterious forces. And he is, most certainly, designed to kill.

Coriolanus (1607–1608) has a curious history. It’s based mainly on Plutarch’s Life of Caius Marius Coriolanus, written in Greek in C.E. 2. It’s not particularly popular, due to the arrogance of the central character. Coriolanus dislikes the “common people” of Rome. And they happen to be starving.

Director and Adaptor Séamus Miller makes all these infelicities bearable, even fascinating. Coriolanus, drenched in PTSD, has been turned into a human weapon. After such an upbringing, did he really have a choice?

James Finley as Coriolanus in ‘Coriolanus.’ Photo by Kathleen Akerley.

As the show opens, we see Coriolanus (James Finley), attired as a Roman legionary, in a central combat space. Audience members are offered a video game controller to manipulate his movements.

At either end of the stage are two giant projection screens. One contains the legend “SPQR” (“Senatus Populusque Romanus”—”The Senate and the People of Rome”). On the other is a Roman laurel wreath, a symbol of military victory.

There is an explosion of light and sound. Lighting (by Solomon HaileSelassie) and sound (sound designer and composer is Tom Carman) are vividly inventive. The costumes by Alexa Cassandra Duimstra range from robes in soft beige tones to futuristic black armor.

Coriolanus’ mother, Volumnia (Kimberly Gilbert), his friend Menenius (Eric Hissom), and the Roman general Cominius (Christopher C. Holbert) recall Coriolanus’ first kills, when he was only 16. We watch as Coriolanus fights with his nemesis, the Volscian commander Aufidius (Saron Araia). Or is it a dream?

Saron Araia as Aufidius in ‘Coriolanus.’ Photo by Kathleen Akerley.

Coriolanus wins a decisive battle against the Volscian enemy. But he cannot restrain himself from insulting the people of Rome, even when he needs their support.

In their first co-production, Avant Bard and Longacre Lea enhance their reputation for pushing creative boundaries. Séamus Miller uses every kind of media possible; familiar digital phrases like “Error” or “Approved” are projected onto the videos. Sometimes the screens contain flashbacks from Coriolanus’ PTSD. Tribunes Brutus (Samuel Richie) and Sicinius (Shayna Friedman), champions of the people and Coriolanus’ sworn enemies, appear there too, in black and white. Their presence is effective and chilling.

Kimberly Gilbert’s magnificent Volumnia is strikingly original. She revels in the fact that she has made Coriolanus what he is. She can be furious, vain, playful, or paradoxically proud of what she has wrought, as when she reminds him,

Thy valiantness was mine; thou suck’st it from me,
But owe thy pride thyself.

Finley as Coriolanus is sometimes condescending, but he can also be childlike and naïve. It is easy to believe that his hatred of the masses was bred into him, and that if brought up in a different way he would be more empathetic, or at least less bigoted. He also excels in the combat scenes, which are extraordinary. (Fight and intimacy co-ordinator is Bess Kaye; assistant fight choreographer is Gil Mitchell.)

TOP LEFT: Stephen Kime as Titus Lartius and James Finley as Coriolanus; TOP RIGHT: Eric Hissom as Menenius and Kimberly Gilbert as Volumnia; ABOVE LEFT: James Finley as Coriolanus and Saron Araia as Aufidius; ABOVE RIGHT: Kimberly Gilbert as Volumnia and James Finley as Coriolanus, in ‘Coriolanus.’ Photos by Kathleen Akerley.

Eric Hissom, well-known for his masterful performances, brings us a Menenius full of ruefulness, sarcasm, and fatherly affection. When Coriolanus harangues the mob, Menenius becomes a kind of James Carville of the ancient world, desperately attempting to help the candidate measure up. The talented Saron Araia, who plays the Volscian commander Aufidius, is proud, ultimately vengeful, and every bit his equal.

Kiana Johnson as Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia adds a welcome note of compassion to this bleak universe. Christopher C. Holbert as the loyal general Cominius displays character and nobility where it is most needed. Stephen Kime (Titus Lartius, et al.), and the Ensemble (Karina Hilleard and Brendan Edward Kennedy) enact their roles with intensity and force.

The video game elements, as director Miller predicted, enhance the isolation that drives Coriolanus. And the production itself is a well-timed reminder of the fragility of power.

Running Time: Two hours and five minutes, including one intermission.

Coriolanus plays through March 23, 2024, co-produced by Avant Bard Theatre and Longacre Lea performing at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA. Purchase tickets online.

As part of a commitment to making theater open to all, Avant Bard offers pay-what-you-can tickets for all Saturday matinees, complimentary tickets to all Arlington middle and high school students, and half-price tickets for their parents/guardians, and, for Coriolanus, offers two “Mask Required” performances: Saturday, March 16 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm.

The program for Coriolanus can be downloaded here.


Coriolanus: James Finley
Volumnia: Kimberly Gilbert
Virgilia, et al.: Kiana Johnson
Cominius, et al.: Christopher C. Holbert
Titus Lartius, et al.: Stephen Kime
Menenius: Eric Hissom
Aufidius: Saron Araia
Ensemble: Karina Hilleard
Ensemble: Brendan Edward Kennedy
Brutus (Video): Samuel Richie
Sicinius (Video): Shayna Freedman

Director and Adaptor: Séamus Miller
Stage Manager: Solomon HaileSelassie
Co-Producer: Kathleen Akerley
Co-Producer: Séamus Miller
Co-Producer: Sara Barker
Co-Producer: Alyssa Sanders
Fight and Intimacy Choreographer: Bess Kaye
Asst. Fight Choreographer: Gil Mitchell
Sound Designer and Composer: Tom Carman
Lighting Designer: Solomon HaileSelassie
Asst. Lighting Designer: Trey Wise
Video Designer: Séamus Miller
Costume Designer: Alexa Cassandra Duimstra
Props Designer: Kathleen Akerley
Scenic Design Consultant: Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden

Master Electrician: Trey Wise
Electrician and Video Engineer: Jerran Kowalski
Sound Engineer: Evan Thanicatt
Electrician: Malory Hartman
Electrician: Isaac Demarchi
Set Build: Complete Fabrications

Avant Bard and Longacre Lea to co-produce Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’ (news story, February 8, 2024)

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe.


  1. Wow! Eric Hissom and Kimberley Gilbert on the same stage! And I love the idea of Menenius as “a kind of James Carville of the ancient world!” This sounds like a Coriolanus worth seeing!


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