BWW Review: THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN at OrangeMite Studios
Will Rogers once said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression". As a theater critic, I am glad to say that my first impression of the OrangeMite Studios was overwhelmingly positive. Granted, OrangeMite is not a new troupe; this is their tenth year in the Dover area. I have heard about their reputation for some time, and I finally got to experience it firsthand.
I had the pleasure of seeing their production of The Two Noble Kinsmen. The play is notable for a few reasons. It was Shakespeare's final play. It was co-written with another playwright, John Fletcher. It is also difficult to categorize-you can not neatly pigeonhole it as comedy, tragedy, or history. Yet, that is one of its strengths-some of the plot developments surprised me, especially when concluding events were not wrapped up in a tidy, little bow.
The crux of story involves two cousins, Arcite (Huy Nguyen) and Palamon (Jamin Miller) who are soldiers captured in battle, and imprisoned by Theseus, the Duke of Athens (Daryll Perkins). While imprisoned, the cousins simultaneously fall in love with Theseus's beautiful sister-in-law, Emilia (Anna Fraser).
Nguyen and Miller have good chemistry together. Their bickering (and eventual duels) are handled very well. Perkins has an excellent command of the Shakespearean tongue, his speech never seems artificial or showy. Fraser gives a believable turn as Athenian royalty. She is very regal in appearance and demeanor.
Speaking of demeanor, Sophia Nicholson plays Annie, the daughter of the jailer of the kinsmen. Annie falls head over heels for Palamon, and risks everything to help him escape. As the play goes on we learn "she ain't right in the head". Nicholson gives a stand-out performance as a young woman, literally, crazy in love.
The entire cast of 24 was consistently well-polished and very engaging. Several of them played multiple parts, and each new character was unique and added to the story. This is clearly a cast who understands and appreciates the Bard.
Kudos to director, William Wolfgang, and assistant directors, Marisa Hoover and Collins Wilson. The blocking was very effective and interesting, especially considering the small space they must work with. I am also a huge fan of their choices of traditional costumes, and simple set design. Way too often, directors feel that a Shakespeare play needs a gimmick to connect to the audience. Let's set Julius Cesar in a 1970's New York City disco. Instead of togas, everyone wears leisure suits!
I think directors rely on such gimmicks when they don't trust the material to be understood or appreciated. However, it's obvious that Wolfgang and company respect their audience. It's Shakespeare! You don't put ketchup on fllet mignon.
Dan Griffin must be recognized for his contributions as combat choreographer. The battles were intense and realistic. It is a challenge to present stage combat safely and convincingly in such a small area. (I could actually feel a slight breeze when the actors swung their swords!)
Finally, I must report that one of OrangeMite's biggest assets is also one of their greatest liabilities. The show was performed in a rustic barn in the Dover countryside. Going to a matinee performance, it was wonderful to experience the picture-perfect views outside. The birds chirping and the breeze blowing made for a memorable and unique experience.
However, the outdoor venue has its problems. Uncooperative weather forced the production's entire first weekend to be cancelled due to flooding. The overall season must be somewhat limited due to the potential chill of autumn air. Furthermore, the theater is not easy to find. My GPS gave me bad directions, and I didn't know what I was looking for. Even when I got back on track, I still had a difficult time spotting the entrance since I was looking for signs advertising "OrangeMite", as opposed to the small, easy to miss signs referencing "Shakespeare in the Barn". This is a small suggestion, but perhaps an important one needed to better welcome other first-time patrons.
The Two Noble Kinsmen is a great show and an excellent introduction to the OrangeMite troupe. They have decided to extend their run through June 2 to make up for last week's wash-out. Tickets and more information can be found on their website. It was my first visit to the "Bard's barn", but will not be my last.