SHOWING : March 11, 2011 - April 16, 2011
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One Play, Two Kinsmen, Three Dimensions, No Fourth Wall.
Two best friends, skilled fighters both, fall in love with the same girl while stuck in prison. Their friendship takes a beating as they try over and over to prove who is most worthy to have her. Part As You Like It, part A Midsummer Night’s Dream and based on Chaucer's "A Knight's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales, The Two Noble Kinsmen leaves the outcome hanging until literally the bitter end.
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The (Semi-)Bard's Tale|
Tuesday, April 19, 2011 ||
Chaucer tells of a story told by the knight while on pilgrimage to Canterbury:|
Once on a time, as old tales tell to us,
There was a duke whose name was Theseus:
Of Athens he was lord and governor,
And in his time was such a conqueror
That greater was there not beneath the sun.
Full many a rich country had he won;
What with his wisdom and his chivalry
He gained the realm of Femininity,
That was of old time known as Scythia.
There wedded he the queen, Hippolyta,
And brought her home with him to his country.[
In his later years, Shakespeare teamed with his young protégé, John Fletcher, to retell this story in “The Two Noble Kinsmen.” This wasn’t the first time he visited the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. We’re all familiar with the festivities portrayed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (which, of course, the Tavern will be staging again next month). Here, though, the implications are darker, the chivalry higher, the outcome ironically tragic.
Three widowed Queens plead with Theseus to wage war against the Theban King Creon. Their dead husbands lie unattended, Creon not allowing them to
“…burn their bones,
To urn their ashes, nor to take th’offence
Of mortal loathsomeness from the blest eye
Of Holy Phoebus, but infects the winds
With stench of our slain lords.”
When Hippolyta and her sister Emilia join the clamor, Theseus agrees, if only to catch a moment’s peace. The war is waged, the battle won, and we are introduced to Arcite and Palamon, two noble kinsmen of Creon, now prisoners of Theseus. While in a prison tower, they catch a glimpse of Emilia and both fall instantly in love.
What follows is a conflict of chivalry and love. Palamon and Arcite, kinsmen and blood-bonded friends, can now do naught but struggle valiantly against each other to win the hand of Emilia (who, incidentally, still has never met them). Through the course of the play, we are treated to an episodic series of interrupted duels, explosively over-the-top expressions of affection and friendship, mad ravings of a jailer’s daughter hopelessly in love with Palamon, and even a traditional “Morris Dance,’ complete with pedant, wenches, and “babion” (baboon).
One of the things I liked about this production is how a lot of the excessive chivalry and romance is played for laughs at first, then gradually becomes more sincere as the stakes get higher. It’s as if director Troy Willis wanted to show us both how silly it is to modern eyes, but show how it still has value and deserves its own form of respect.
I also like how small moments leave lasting impacts. For example, the early scene with the three widowed queens seems to go on for far too long, but Andrew Houchins’ Theseus plays to the length, finally agreeing to the war with Creon just to get away from them. Another example is when Palamon and Arcite are in jail extolling the virtues of their friendship over and over, only to have that friendship overturned by a mere glance at a pretty face. Speaking of that pretty face, Kathryn Lawson has a moment when Emilia must choose one of the kinsmen (whom she still hardly knows), knowing full well that the one she doesn’t choose will be put to death. It’s a near-perfect “how can I make this choice?” moment that is fully realized with no words, no laughter, only agonized indecision.
“Midsummer” fans will definitely carp that the schoolmaster’s speech before Theseus and the Morris Dance are pale copies of the “Pyramus and Thisby” sequence, but I found them silly and energetic enough to enjoy them on their own terms.
More to the point, the seriousness of the last parts of the play bring a well-earned emotional response that was built on the enjoyable humor of the opening segments. I liked how the Jailer’s Daughter’s mad speeches had elements of humor and pathos, how she is “treated” by a quack doctor in a truly despicable way, and how, ultimately, her story ends with a wry note of hopefulness.
Much of the success of this production can be accounted for by the marvelously wide-ranging performances of Daniel Parvis (Palamon) and Matt Nitchie (Arcite). The characters are very similar on the printed page, but here, they have a wide range of individual mannerisms and traits. The actors skillfully make the humor sing and the pathos sigh, taking these two characters on a journey that leaves us as indecisive as Emilia – we like them both so much, we want them both to “win” (somehow).
Much as I love Shakespeare, I don’t think I have an “ear” tuned to the point where I can discern which scenes were written by Shakespeare and which by Fletcher. Which is a compliment to the play in general – it comes across as a unified piece, not as a jigsaw puzzle quickly assembled from the writings of two too dissimilar authors. It struck me as a true collaboration, a unified work that allowed both writers to show off their best writing while letting the influencies on each other smooth over any stylistic “disconnects.”
In other words, now that Shakespeare’s participation is becoming more widely accepted, I think it’s time for this play to join the canon with full respect. I find it on a par with “Pericles” and “The Winter’s Tale” and far superior to “Henry VIII,’ all of which were written about the same time. Maybe it’s Chaucer’s influence, maybe it’s because the play seems to fit the Tavern’s performing style like a glove, maybe it’s the charm and skill of Mr. Nitchie and Mr. Parvis (not to mention the more-than-a-pretty-face performance of Ms. Lawson and the exquisitely complementary ensemble).
All I can say is this production may well be a highlight of this Tavern season.
Since I opened this review with Chaucer, I might as well close with him as well:
For now is [name deleted by spoiler police], in alle wele,
Living in bliss, in richess, and in hele,
And Emely him loveth so tenderly,
And he hir serveth also gentilly,
That never was there no word hem betweene,
Of jalousy or any other teene.
Thus endeth [name deleted by spoiler police], and Emelye;
And God save all this faire compaignye! Amen.
HERE ENDETH THE KNIGHT'S TALE
-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com)
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Saturday, April 9, 2011 ||
Our first outing to this delightful and intimate theater experience and can't say enough to let you all know how much we enjoyed the production. I would say I loved Palamon and Arcite the best because of their superb performances. I felt their love and emotional tie as strongly as they did for each other. The sword fight prelude was pure pleasure to watch. Their both noticing Emilia from the balcony was also sheer delight. But I dare not fail to say how very entertaining the country men were and their dances with sticks - well - who could ever top that? It was a hard choice between Emilia and the jailer's daughter as to their ability to act showing every emotion possible but also keeping the audience absolutely entranced the whole time.|
I think it enough to simply say - great talent, wonderful entertainment, a very pleasant and enjoyable evening spent. I used to go to Broadway all the time for every new play, and even to Central Park for Shakespeare one time, but I think the idea of the Shakespeare Tavern would be hard to beat by any of it.
Don't know who to praise and thank for the delicious dinner and dessert or for the whole idea of tavern fare and theater too, but thank you very very much. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Blood is thicker than water -- but not testosterone|
|by Lady Mac
Monday, March 14, 2011 ||
Imagine if William Shakespeare took “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Hamlet” and several other plays, both comedy and tragedy, dumped them into a blender, and hit “puree.” The concoction that poured out afterward would be “Two Noble Kinsmen.” Even the characters of Theseus and Hippolyta are reused from “Midsummer,” and, as in that one, they get to witness a “fine” dramatic/dance/musical production that is hilariously absurd. |
There is a lot to love – some even to adore – about this play, and most of that is in the first half. Shakespeare and his writing partner, John Fletcher, seem to have forgotten that they were writing a comedy somewhere along the line, so enjoy the laughs while you can. Through all the play’s peaks, valleys and head-scratching detours (war starting over the remains of three women’s husbands? impromptu theater in the forest? really?), though, the audience remains 100 percent invested – and that is because of this near-perfect cast, particularly Daniel Parvis (Palamon) and Matt Nitchie (Arcite) as the title characters. The audience can forgive nearly anything in the plot for the sake of them and their very capable supporting players. The actors and the director deserve high praise for making sense out of this “Shakespeare potpourri” and actually bringing a kind of flow to it.
The basic plot is that a huge wedge is driven between two very tight-knit cousins when they both fall in love with a woman they see through the window of a prison. They are prisoners of war, but really popular VIP ones. And, yes, they merely SEE her, but both willingly throw away their iron-clad bond with each other over her, even though they moments earlier proclaimed that life in prison is better than freedom simply because they are there together. (Just go with it.)
The relationship between the “kinsmen” is played to such perfection by Parvis and Nitchie that the audience (or, at least, I) cared about a thousand times more what happened to them – whether they would patch things up – than what happened between either of them and the accidental femme fatale, Emilia, who happens to be Hippolyta’s sister and an avowed bachelorette. She protests her intention not to mess with the silliness of marriage almost as vehemently as Benedick does in “Much Ado About Nothing,” so the audience knows right away not to believe a word of it. (Her speech about old times with her gal pal is yet another “Midsummer” ripoff – er, homage. It’s a nice, sentimental tribute to the bonds of friendship that is reminiscent of Titania’s speech about her late, great friend as well as the “remember when” exchange between Hermia and Helena at the beginning of that play.)
Back to Nitchie and Parvis, though: This is a fantastic pairing of the Tavern’s two rising stars. While they both usually do masterful jobs in nonleading roles, this puts them front and center, and they are more than up to the challenge. The chemistry between these two lifelong best friends is absolutely critical to the success of this play, and they completely nailed it. Just a tiny move or an inflection by either of them adds so much. While the characters probably come across as basically indistinguishable and not very interesting on the page, that is wiped away by the nuanced manner in which Parvis and Nitchie make them their own and differentiate them. I saw this on opening weekend, and it already “clicked” on every level; there is seemingly very little room for the improvement that almost always occurs throughout the play’s run.
The rest of the cast is impressive, too. Despite the harshness of her past and of her eye shadow (I tried not to mention it – I really did – but she reminded me of Mimi from “The Drew Carey Show,” and it could not be ignored), Mary Saville as Hippolyta also has a soft side. She is believable as a warrior, and she is more than a little intimidating, but she also shows tenderness to her too-cute-for-her-own-good little sister. There’s also just the tiniest bit of jealousy in her. Though she’s not on stage much, she makes the most of the time she is, as does Andrew Houchins as Theseus. Houchins’ Theseus is still basically likable despite the rather irritating way in which the character plays with people’s lives for his own entertainment. Kathryn Lawson as Emilia is lovely and tragic. She really is much more than a pretty face, even though there’s no way the guys could have known that, and she evokes a great deal of sympathy for her predicament toward the end.
Amee Vyas plays an Ophelia-like (the character doesn’t even have a name) jailer’s daughter driven mad by unrequited love for Palamon and a lack of nourishment/rest/common sense while pursuing him. She does a very perky, risqué madwoman admirably. The characters’ reactions to her madness run the gamut: a very sweet, loving treatment by her uncle (Stuart McDaniel, in the best of his mini-roles); the desperate concern of her father (Winslow Thomas, in a welcome return to the Tavern) and spurned suitor (the underused-here Paul Hester), both also unnamed; the amused, somewhat exploitative recruitment by the traveling troupe of actors; the creepy, disturbing, off-putting “medical advice” offered by a very slimy doctor (played to the oily height by Clark Weigle). Her storyline itself runs the gamut, too – silly and harmless one moment and highly uncomfortable the next. Listen carefully to Hester’s detailing of his rescue of her to see just how much Shakespeare plagiarized himself.
It’s almost a shame that there had to be minor roles in this play, which results in the relegation of some impressive talents (ex: Erin Considine) to just a few lines. The cast has almost no weak link, and they all do incredible work to make this play much more than it maybe ought to be. While the original play is by no means a “sow’s ear,” the performances and directorial decisions elevate it to a much finer “silk purse” than might seem possible.
All in all, two pieces of advice: (1) Go see this play and find out how it ends (and why that almost doesn’t even matter). This is all but guaranteed to be your only chance, and I promise you that you don’t want to merely read this play. (2) Read the summary in the playbill before the show begins. It wisely doesn’t give away the ending and it makes the twists, turns and bizarre subplots a lot easier to decipher.
If only there had been curtains in that prison cell…
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by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)