Shakespeare, in the original recipe

By Howard Shapiro
Nobody had a makeup artist in the Elizabethan theater, or a lighting designer, choreographer, or even a director.

Or a publicist — although Patrick Mulcahy, the head of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, has been doing a pretty good job spiriting audiences to the production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, which the festival is staging as if Shakespeare had just written it.

“The actors are doing it more or less under the same circumstances they would have experienced 400 years ago,” Mulcahy told the audience at the curtain speech of another festival show, explaining just what that means: five days of rehearsal as opposed to the usual nearly month-long period standard at the festival, no designers, no director. You learn it, you block out the movements on stage, you open it.

Shakespeare may laugh today at the legion of stagecraft artists and the bureaucratic machine that keeps a theater company in motion — but he’d also probably marvel at the polish that all those elements rub on a production. Still, there’s no doubt that audiences at this year’s festival, at DeSales University near Bethlehem, are getting a big bonus.

First, they’re getting an additional mainstage show. Instead of the four major productions normal for the festival, this year the festival stages five — The Two Noble Kinsmen is an add-on. Second, it rises to the high level of staging and thought that audiences have come to expect from the festival, so as a moderately risky experiment, it works.

Not everything about The Two Noble Kinsmen is exactly as it was in Elizabethan times. The show had a preview performance before Thursday’s official opening night, which was hardly standard Elizabethan practice, and the festival hired a stage manager for the actors — a fulltime position that would give some historians pause.

But these are trifles; the 14 actors came in last week with their lines memorized and immediately worked with speed and intensity, and they’ve come up with a Kinsmen that’s noble itself — stylishly funny, with smart character interpretations and a spirit that says, yes, if they could do it then, we can do it now.

I’d venture that if you didn’t know the circumstances — the actors had to scout the festival’s collection of used costumes and appropriate scenery from its earlier shows this season, in addition to throwing together the staging — you wouldn’t have guessed that the production had a Hey! Let’s put on a show! provenance.

So here’s to the brave actors, all of them, and particularly Spencer Plachy and Thomas Matthew Kelley as the two noble cousins pulled by their love for each other and for their love of the same woman, played Eleanor Handley. The cast not only puts on a Shakespeare that’s not typically performed (and more’s the pity for that, the Bard might protest), but makes it memorable. From scratch.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or

Presented by the Pennnsylvania Shakespeare Festival, at DeSales University, 2755 Station Ave., Center Valley, through Aug. 7. Tickets: $30 and $32. Information: 610-282-9455<NO1>cq<NO> or<NO1>cq<NO>.