CORIOLANUS

For Throw back Thursday, I had to reach way back to 1988 and the Public theater production of Coriolanus, starring Christopher Walken, Irene Worth, and Keith David.  The production was directed by Steven Berkhoff.

I, along with several other young, strong, good looking men, were the company, which meant that we played all of the small roles.

Sometime, over a beer, I will share some stories about that production.  Oh I have some GOOD stuff, like the public having to ask Walken to stop smoking weed in the back stairwell, as the dancers in the production playing in the theater upstairs from us were choking and getting contact highs, dashing through Walken’s smoke, trying to get to their stage.

Walken is a terrific actor and it is hard to know exactly how he managed to perform each night as blasted as he was, (the man smelled terrible!), but somehow he got through each performance, only passing out on closing night.

Keith David (as we – the company – were standing Walken upright in preparation for him to take his curtain call): “I don’t know what combination of drugs and alcohol that was, but it looks like some powerful shit!”

Irene Worth was just a wonderful and grand lady.  I became friends with her dresser (who ended up marrying David, Lucky SOB!), and so ended up being around Worth’s dressing room more than normal.  Near Christmas, I was in Irene’s dressing room while she was making gifts for friends – stuffed cats.  I mentioned that it would be terrific to make one out of black velvet with a small crystal for an eye.  That Christmas, I received a gift from one of the first ladies of the American Theater – a black velvet stuffed cat.  Of course, that cat remains one of the most treasured mementos of my theatrical career.

Keith David is simply one of the best actors I have ever worked with.  With such a powerful voice, it would be easy for him to fall back on that booming bass and do a lot of voice acting, he doesn’t.  That said, my most enduring memory is of Keith passing gas on stage and then with a straight face, completely in character, turning to us guys in the company and raising his eyebrow.  Keith never broke (character that is.  He broke wind plenty of times!); I am not sure I can say the same for us in the company.

I am fairly certain Berkhoff had a fight with everyone in the cast and everyone who worked at the theater.  If memory serves, everyone quit (including Walken) at one time or another except the gentleman who wrote the the original music.  His name escapes me, but he took an enormous amount of abuse from Berkhoff, but never quit. He hung in there and actually ended up doing the music for Berkhoff’s next project, for which he was nominated for an Tony (if I am not mistaken).

I don’t recall that anyone liked Berkhoff and a lot of folks were surprised that this production was a hit.  Two things I recall about Steven Berkhoff:  I cut off all of my hair and much to my castmates displeasure (especially one cat with hair down his back), Steven liked the way it looked and wanted all of the guys to cut their hair off.  Steven said my head looked like a fist.  So, if any of you are wondering why I don’t cut my hair off…

The second thing I recall about Steven is that after we had opened, he pulled me to the side and asked me what I was doing after this production.  I replied, “Nothing.” That was my normal response because I have never had the good fortune to have jobs lined up back to back.  Berkhoff responded, “Well, we have got to find something for you to do.  You should be working.”

This is a man who had never said one nice thing to me the entire production, was abrasive to everyone, and yet, he was telling me that he believed in me and my talent.  Yeah, I guess I liked him after that.

Oh I have lots more!  This was a really good production with really good folks, many of whom have gone on to terrific careers.

These Photos by Martha Swope, seem to have been taken during a rehearsal.  Or maybe they weren’t.  At any rate, enjoy.

Cast in a scene fr. the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Coriolanus."

Cast in a scene fr. the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play “Coriolanus.”

Actor Steven Berkoff (fr., R) w. cast members in a scene fr. the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Coriolanus."

Actor Steven Berkoff (fr., R) w. cast members in a scene fr. the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play “Coriolanus.”

Actor Christopher Walken (3L) w. cast members in a scene fr. the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play "Coriolanus."

Actor Christopher Walken (3L) w. cast members in a scene fr. the New York Shakespeare Festival production of the play “Coriolanus.”

 


About Author

Joseph C. Phillips

Joseph C. Phillips was born on January 17, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, USA as Joseph Connor Phillips. He is an actor, known for General Hospital (1994), The Cosby Show (1984) and Strictly Business (1991). He has been married to Nicole since 1994. They have three children.

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