When a theater troop is focused on working with Shakespeare’s entire canon, it inevitably must dust off such oddities as the little known The Two Noble Kinsmen. Scholars credit the writing of this piece to the team of John Fletcher and Shakespeare and file the work under tragicomedy. The play, based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, involves two Theban cousins falling in love with the same Athenian woman. It is a positive commentary on Seattle and the GreenStage Shakespeare in the Park program that the presentation drew such a good crowd on a sun baked afternoon in Volunteer Park. All were rewarded with a solid, entertaining production that made the most out of its somewhat clunky script.
Director Ryan Higgins pulls out all the stops to help the obscure play succeed in the huge park setting. A number of scenes were enhanced by clever physical work that borrowed a good deal from the Italian Commedia del’ Arte genre.
The script doesn’t involve many introspective soliloquies, so it makes sense that the focus was always on keeping the story moving along as swiftly as possible. The prologue and epilogue were delivered with gusto, split between two narrators. Actors ran across the stage, announcing act, scene and setting changes. Characters brought on large dolls, chain shackles and ribbons as they made their way through scenes. These props often helped clarify and enhance the unfamiliar plot line.
After defeating the Theban army, Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Tom Stewart) discovers two nearly dead enemy soldiers on the field and has them jailed. The soldiers are two cousins, Palamon (Adam St. John) and Arcite (J. Samuel Cowan). They come to terms with their imprisonment and are content to endure their sequestered lives as long as they have each other’s company. Alas, they soon spot the lovely Emilia (Jennifer Ewing) through a window and all that bromance vanishes. They are instantly competing suitors for their newfound love. Adding to the mix, the young Jailor’s daughter (Helen Roundhill) falls in love with Palamon.
Roundhill nearly steals the show with impressive work wherein her character begins to lose her sanity searching for Palamon in the foreboding woods. She movingly portrays the ailing young woman in scenes echoing poor Ophelia’s plight in Hamlet.
The play eventually works its way toward a dramatic climax that strangely occurs off stage in the original script. Higgins chooses to delete an unseen incident involving a horseback riding accident that is reported on stage by a messenger and substitute in a dramatic onstage original dénouement. The deviation from the text works wonders for the play.
I am continually impressed with the spirit and energy displayed by the GreenStage troops. Battling 85-degree heat, constant overhead air traffic and a somewhat shaky sound system, they tackled this challenging piece and made it work.
GreenStage’s The Two Noble Kinsmen is part of the 2015 Shakespeare in the Park series that also includes Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. All performances are free, but donations are gladly accepted. For more information on show times and sites go to greenstage.org.