BWW Reviews: TWO NOBLE KINSMEN Brings Theater Outdoors
As we reach that wonderful time to be North Carolinians when the mildness of spring begins to fade into the heat of summer, the folks at Bare Theatre, Raleigh Little Theatre, and Cirque de Vol Studios are capitalizing on Mother Nature's generosity by bringing theater outdoors to present Two Noble Kinsmen at the Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. Audience members can bring their picnic blankets and beach chairs, enjoy food trucks and cold beverages while the sunset provides ambience that the best lighting designers in the world could never create and the fireflies join to watch a unique piece of theater by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. One would be hard-pressed to think of a better way to welcome summer.
You may be racking your brain trying to remember if you have seen Two Noble Kinsmen before or if you read it in school. Chances are, you haven't and you didn't. The collaboration between the Bard of Stratford-Upon-Avon and then up-and-comer Fletcher is, as director G. Todd Buker notes in his message to the audience, rarely performed and comparatively unstudied. To prove his point, Buker notes that it's Shakespeare's only work that has never been told on film. However, just because people rarely perform this show doesn't mean it's not worth visiting.
As is common for productions of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, the show program includes a thorough plot summary. Two Noble Kinsmen is, not surprisingly, complex; so as not to reveal too much, my summary is brief and does not include all subplots. Cousins (and titular noble kinsmen) Palamon and Arcite both fall in love with a princess named Emilia. No matter what they do, for some reason, it keeps coming to a point where if one man gets her, the other must die. Concurrently, the gaoler's (jailer's) daughter, having seen the cousins while they were briefly imprisoned early on in the play, falls madly (literally) in love with Palamon. Generally speaking, the difference between Shakespearian comedy and tragedy is that tragedies end in mass death, and comedies end in a mass wedding. This doesn't exactly fit the bill of either, making it a unique piece of theater.
Despite some fading energy as the night wore on, the cast was well-rehearsed and made good use of the bare stage. One performance of note was that of Katie Barrett as the Gaoler's Daughter - for her, the Shakespearean text seems like a second language which comes naturally to her, as the words poured out of her as simply as modern speech.
The production includes performers with fascinating circus skills - fire eating, stilt-walking, and more. While those elements are visually stimulating and interesting, they don't meld well with the story. Other than the fact that they're interesting, there's no reason to include them from a storytelling standpoint. Their inclusion is, at times, even distracting. However, there is some interesting use of shadow puppets and silhouettes of actors to add to the show. The stage includes no set, just white screens at the back, and those are put to good use with puppetry and shadow imagery.
Putting on a full-length production outdoors is no small feat, so it's understandable that the opening night performance included some microphone troubles and a longer-than-usual intermission, likely to address technical issues. However, overall, actors were heard, scenes moved smoothly, and little was missed due to technical error.
Seeing theater outdoors is a rare experience, and one to embrace. Making an evening of spending time outdoors to partake in the arts is a great way to enjoy Raleigh in May. For audiences, seeing Two Noble Kinsmen is more than just seeing a play, it's truly an experience.
Two Noble Kinsmen runs through May 31st. For tickets and more information, visit www.raleighlittletheatre.org.