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A CurtainUp Review

The Two Noble Kinsmen
By Brad Bradley

South Side Cafe

‘Tis a main goodness, cousin, that our fortunes were twined together. >---Palamon: "
 Graham Hamilton, David Harbour (background), Doan Ly
Graham Hamilton, David Harbour (background), Doan Ly
(Photo: Michael Daniel )
Although not universally acknowledged as belonging in Shakespeare’s canon, The Two Noble Kinsmen has found more acceptance by Bardophiles in recent years. The little-known possible collaboration with Fletcher might be described as a romance with dark undertones, making it good company for Shakespeare’s better known A Winter’s Tale. If Kinsmen’s tragic background of the Theban Wars and inevitable memories of Oedipus, Agamemnon and all that crowd do bring the play closer to tragedy, evidence is primarily restricted to its start and ending, with a trio of grieving royal widows interrupting the story’s festive beginning at the wedding of Athenian Duke Theseus to Hippolyta, and the matter of death returning in the final scene with the on-stage expiration of one of the title characters owing to a bizarre accident following a duel between rival lovers.

Darko Tresnjak’s production is crisply spoken, adroitly staged, and mostly sharply focused, giving an audience unfamiliar with the Jacobean text little trouble following the action or understanding the characters. Numerous monologues delivered by major characters directly to the audience also help to break down the cultural barriers of the centuries.

Chief among the characters, of course, are the eponymous noble kinsmen, Arcite and Palamon, both nephews to Creon, Thebes’ bellicose leader. These cousins have an enormous fidelity to one another. Their bond will be considered by many viewing the current production to have substantial homoerotic implications, although we should keep in mind that the liberal evidence of male fidelity within parts of ancient Greece certainly far overreached the widely accepted mores of our own society As prisoners of war, these two "noble sufferers" view their shared cell as a holy sanctuary, and they remain happy together even while shackled. Comic results of this devotion are in evidence in the staging, when, out of jail, Arcite displays to Palamon a picnic spread that is arguably a romantic set-up, with even a red rose in a vase included.

The Public Theater’s two kinsmen are marvelously played by David Harbour as Arcite and Graham Hamilton as Palamon. Harbour, an impressive veteran player on both stage and screen, is the more rugged of the two, and naturally conveys soldierly strengths. More romantic and delicate of frame is Hamilton, a Juilliard grad making his professional debut with extraordinary assurance and appeal.

Other standouts in a fine cast are Sam Tsoutsouvas, who brings a commanding mix of power and sensitivity to Theseus, and Doan Ly, fully the compelling beauty we expect as Emilia, the ultimate object of desire of both of the Theban lads. Ly, in fact, equally attractive in her voice and movement, is the most effective of the several fine women in Tresnjak’s unusually efficient and talented multi-racial cast of ten. Additional especially fine performances come from Candy Buckley as a wise but almost comic pre-Freudian country doctor, Jonathan Fried as a proletarian jailer and Jennifer Ikeda as his fragile daughter who, like Ophelia, loses her mind when life goes badly yet reflects tenderness of love in her mad words.

David P. Gordon’s sparce scenic design centers on a small but effective triangular stage space, stunningly transforming the Martinson Hall venue into intimacy. The space symbolizes the triangular romance at the center of the play that ultimately separates the two kinsmen. Their jail cell also is contained within a skewed triangle, and the three-sided motif is retained in the central proscenium wall. A line of a dozen trees extends well beyond that wall into both sides of the divided audience space, comfortingly suggesting a continuity and perhaps even infinity in the environment.

Costume and lighting designs are also impressive (Linda Cho and Robert Wierzel, respectively). Particularly remarkable is Michael Creason’s sound design, with never a word of the poetic text lacking in clarity. Production values throughout are clean and consistent, happily lacking the directorial self-indulgence sometimes on view in classic works, such as the Public’s own Henry V in Central Park last summer.

Discerning theatergoers are advised to include this nearly unknown four-century-old dramatic fantasy on their autumn arts calendars. It’s a highly satisfying endeavor.

Written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher
Directed by Darko Tresjnak
Cast: Opal Alladin, Candy Buckley, Liam Craig, Jonathan Fried, Graham Hamilton, David Harbour, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Jennifer Ikeda, Doan Ly, Sam Tsoutsouvas.
Set Design: David Gordon
Costume Design: Linda Cho
Lighting Design: Robert Wierzel
Sound Design: Michael Creason
Running time: Approx. 2 and 1/2 hours with intermission
Public Theatre, Martinson Hall, 425 Lafayette Street 239-6200.
10/07/03; opening 10/19/03 -- $50
Reviewed by Brad Bradley based on October 17th press preview

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