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 http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/phillystage/ in late August.
Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2011 Sansom St. Through August 18. Tickets: FREE Information: www.philyshakespeare.org or 215-496-8001.