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Jules Becker

Any theater with Jacqui Parker as a cast member demands attention—especially Shakespeare.

The Boston based African American talent is a multiple award winner for her work with such troupes as the Lyric Stage and the Huntington Theatre. She is unquestionably one of the Hub’s finest actresses. Parker is also a writer and director. She has won six Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards and an Elliot Norton Award.

Now, she is returning to the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC), where she acted in “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” to play powerful tribune Sicinius Velutus in this summer’s Boston Common production of “Coriolanus.”
And she could not be more excited.

“I’m one of those summer girls and I usually hate committing to anything then,” the busy actress admitted.“But I love what Steve [CSC artistic director Steven Maler] does.”

“Coriolanus,” while rarely staged, could not be timelier. The Roman soldier, Caius Marius Coriolanus, can be a hero in battle against the Volscians one moment and then become a problem for the people of Rome.

Can Coriolanus win over everyday citizens, who are often swayed by tribunes Sicinius Velutus and Junius Brutus?

Shakespeare is making a major statement in this distinctive tragedy about a proud leader who is defeated by his own distance from the people and his vulnerability as a virtuous loner.

A variety of conflicts —Coriolanus against the people; Coriolanus against his mother Volumnia and a free for all of tensions between tribunes, military leaders and everyday Romans—resonate in a timely manner in the hyper-political America of 2012.

“You really don’t know who to root for,” Parker observed.

She spoke about the play and her excitement in preparing for it.

“What CSC does is give people an opportunity to explore Shakespeare. I’m very excited about that.”

Parker saw affinities between Occupy Boston and the popular unrest that confronts Coriolanus in the play.

“It’s important to represent the melting pot,” she said. ”The power of the people definitely comes out in the play.

She also spoke of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its possible connection with Coriolanus’ own psychological turmoil.

 “This PTSD is very real,” she noted. “You wonder about Coriolanus and what makes him the soldier he is.”

As for her role as influential and popular tribune Velutus and the play’s political implications, Parker offered, “We [the public] watch it [the reports about politics and the campaigns] every night. It’s the games people play. At any moment our society could erupt and things could get out of control.”

Parker hoped that Shakespeare theatergoers will be taken with the CSC effort. “The fight sequences are graphic. It’s pretty dramatic,” she maintained. 

The large cast includes Nicholas Carriere as Coriolanus, Maurice Parent as Aufidius, leader of the Volscians, Kren MacDonald as Volumnia and Remo Airaldi as Brutus.

“Coriolanus” is the 17th annual installment of the free Shakespeare on the Common series. It runs every Monday night through August 12. For more information click here.