Friday, October 9, 2015


Hats off to Philly Shakes for adding this rarely performed play to local knowledge --.and to local pleasure, says Toby Zinman.



By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer

Want to know how old my beatup collected Shakespeare is? So old it doesn’t include The Two Noble Kinsmen.  Only recently has the play been included in volumes of the collected plays, as Shakespearian purists relented and opened the door and their minds to plays Shakespeare collaborated on; the other author of TNK is John Fletcher, and the source is Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale.”  So hats off to Philly Shakes for adding this rarely performed play to local knowledge. And to local pleasure.

This lively -- and free --  production is the culmination of Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s annual Classical Acting Academy where actors spend eight weeks immersed in classical techniques. And they sure have learned their lessons.

Don’t even ask about the convoluted plot. Basically there are two guys, Arcite (Chris Anthony) and Palamon (the excellent Dan McGlaughlin) who are royal cousins captured and imprisoned in Athens by Duke Theseus, who has waged war against their tyrannical uncle Creon, king of Thebes. Both so handsom that "it is a holiday to look on them," they have pledged total friendship to each other—a bromance played for laughs.

But then, one fateful day, peering from their prison window, they see a beautiful woman, Emilia (Laura Betz) and the dialogue goes like this:

ARCITE: Now I feel my shackles.

PALAMON: I saw her first.

There ensues a kind of playground fight that will later become a fatal battle; tonally the play makes sudden swerves into comedy and into tragedy. The Jailer’s daughter (Portland Thomas) goes mad for love, but she’s a funny crazy, and her father  (Sam Sherburne) seems both genuinely distraught and cartoonishly ridiculous. Outstanding among the cast, who double and triple roles, is Maryruth Stine as a kind of Jewish Jacobean psychiatrist.  

Director Aaron Cromie has walked that smart, fine line between rigorous classicism and contemporary fun: two noble dudes who fist bump and reminisce about wenches, while the company provides great fights (combat choreography by Michael Cosenza) and wild dances.  The costumes are contemporary clothes and there is no set to speak of: This is no-frills theater-making with energy and gusto.

This will be my summer of rare Shakespeare; I’ll be seeing the Henry VI trilogy (all in one day!) at the Globe in London—stay tuned for that review to be posted on in late August.


Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2011 Sansom St. Through August 18. Tickets: FREE Information: or 215-496-8001.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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