Who could ever predict that Shakespeare’s powerful political power-play (c. 1608), Coriolanus, would so closely mirror today’s worldwide political arena—mostly the three-ring variety? The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ)’s new production, in Madison, New Jersey, through July 24th, will rattle you, not just for its prescience, but because of its talented cast, unique design and even the sound effects. If you thought politicians can be—how shall we say?—manipulative, this peek into Shakespeare’s most divided political leader will show you the forces that just may be manipulating them.

Huge cast, yet tight ensemble

Director Brian Crowe leads 25 actors, who enter and exit from all sides, parading the aisles, at times shouting from the balcony, as if just one person. The charismatic Greg Derelian plays surly, snarly Coriolanus—a walking scowl—and throws himself bodily into this staging’s demanding physicality that includes impressive swordplay. Jacqueline Antaramian, dramatically compelling in the role of Volumnia, proves the real force behind her son. Her pep talk, urging Coriolanus to seem sincere to Rome’s poor and oppressed even if it means being untrue to himself, epitomizes his inner dilemma:

Pivotal characters

Bruce Cromer as Menenius Agrippa, strives to sway the beleaguered general in the interests of Rome’s populace.

Or are they his interests? He isn’t spared this action-packed production’s dangers, at one point being thrown several feet from the stage to a platform a couple feet below. Making an impressive Company debut—at times brandishing swords in both hands—Michael Schantz is General Tullus Aufidius, Coriolanus’ sworn enemy who ironically joinshim in attacking Rome when its citizens banish their hero.

Corey Tazmania as tribune Sicinius Velutus delivers her volleys of charged speech with seeming facility, giving a voice to the poor before Rome’s formidable ruling class.

Truly no minor roles

The towering Raphael Nash Thompson as General Cominius excels in dramatic roles with one of the richest stage voices around. Clark Scott Carmichael as Titus Lartius promotes the supporting role of Coriolanus’ trusted friend and soldier to leading role status.

In the tiny roles of Lieutenant and Third Citizen, Jordan Laroya’s arguably most important role can be seen exclusively in rehearsal rooms where, as Fight Captain, he helps cast members to perfect the conflict choreography created by Fight Director Doug West. How do no fatalities arise from these realistic skirmishes? Oh, and the slow-motion assassination of a certain someone will wow you.

The look and sound of Coriolanus

Set Designer Richard Block’s austere set is a bare playing field onto which come only the most essential furniture and props, only when needed. Across the back of the stage a multipurpose sliding wall acts as backdrop, city gates and entrances into various buildings. Costume Designer Tristan Raines dresses everyone in epoch-defying garb of brilliant white (patricians) and grimy gray and black (plebeians), sometimes redolent of Star Trek (Senators) or otherwise interplanetary (the Volscians).

Sound Designer Karin Graybash adds perfect atmospheric touches principally through eerie acoustic effects, like a massive door’s resounding echo.

How does STNJ do it, every time? Coriolanus leaves you breathless—riveting live theaterat its best.

Till July 24th: The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison NJ 07940.