By Tim Dunleavy
The Two Noble Kinsmen
The Two Noble Kinsmen is one of Shakespeare’s least performed plays, but don’t hold that against it. After all, it’s only in the last few decades that scholars have largely agreed that it even is a Shakespeare play. (It’s widely believed now that it was co-written by Shakespeare and playwright John Fletcher.) Perhaps because it’s a collaboration, The Two Noble Kinsmen feels unfinished; for instance, usually Shakespeare gives names to even his minor characters, but in this play a major character is called simply “Jailer’s Daughter,” as if Shakespeare and Fletcher forgot to name her. And the play’s tone veers between tragedy and comedy in a way that can make it challenging to stage. But director Aaron Cromie rises to the challenge in his fine new production for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, featuring members of the company’s Classical Acting Academy. It’s not an elaborate production; the set is simple, and the modern costumes are among the show’s few flourishes. But the humor and spirit Cromie and his cast bring make this production worth catching.
The Two Noble Kinsmen are Palamon and Arcite, a pair of brave warrior cousins who will do anything to support each other … that is, until they see Emilia, the Queen’s beautiful sister, and instantly fall in love with her. “I saw her first,” says Palamon, but Arcite feels he’s just as entitled, and pretty soon the former friends are at each others’ throats. Meanwhile, the Jailer’s Daughter (remember her?) pines away for Palamon, then goes crazy when she cannot have him.
It’s a slender plot, but the vivid characterizations make it worth paying attention to. Chris Anthony plays Arcite with square-jawed certainty, while Dan McGlaughlin’s Palamon treats his ex-friend’s every word with eye-bulging outrage. Laura Betz plays Emilia with demure grace, but she’s up to the emotional challenge of some fiery speeches in the play’s final act. And Portland Thomas is focused and hypnotic as her Jailer’s Daughter slips into anxiety and madness. There are nice comic touches from the supporting actors, including Maryruth Stine, who gets a lot of laughs as both a drunken student and a doctor who apparently made it to Athens via Brooklyn. And, as the ruler of Athens, Taylor Darden comes off like a young Donald Trump. With a sleek business suit and an arrogant attitude, Darden gets Trump’s blunt, blonde, pompadoured pomposity just right.
The Trump references are typical of the subtle wit that pervades this production. Whether it’s a running gag about a handshake, or having Emilia choose between Palamon and Arcite by comparing their actors’ headshots, Cromie and crew inject a light tone that makes this Two Noble Kinsmen highly enjoyable.
The Two Noble Kinsmen runs through August 18, 2013, at The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom Street. Tickets are free on a first come, first served basis, available at the Box Office three hours before curtain each day. For more information, call the Box Office at (215) 496-8001 or visit www.PhillyShakespeare.org.
The Two Noble Kinsmen
By William Shakespeare and John Fletcher
Directed by Aaron Cromie
Lighting Design… Rachel Sampey
Sound Design / Music Director … Joe Samala
Combat Instructor … Michael Cosenza
Stage Manager… Aria Velz
Arcite … Chris Anthony
Emilia … Laura Betz
Pirithous/Wooer … Jason Cutts
Theseus … Taylor Darden
Valerius/Jailer’s Brother … Walter DeShields
Palamon … Dan McGlaughlin
Hippolyta … Tasha Milkman
Schoolmaster/Ensemble … Leeanna Rubin
Jailer … Sam Sherburne
Jailer’s Daughter … Portland Thomas
Ensemble … Sarah Knittel, Maryruth Stine