Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s presentation of the rarely produced The Two Noble Kinsmen is a noble feat, as it put CSC in the company of only six modern theater companies who have also “completed the canon” by performing all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays.
Kinsmen, a tragicomedy, is credited to both Shakespeare and John Fletcher, who followed Shakespeare as house playwright for the King’s Men. The play is derived from The Canterbury Tales and pits Arcite (Zach Schute) and Palamon (Matt Lytle), two cousins from Thebes, in a revenge battle for Creon and ultimately against each other for the hand of Athenian princess Emilia (Sara Clark). In a secondary plot, during the young men’s imprisonment, the jailer’s young daughter (Miranda McGee) falls for Palamon and ultimately goes mad with unrequited desire.
There are good reasons why Kinsmen is not often produced. The wild swings between comedy and tragedy and perhaps between two playwrights’ desire for control over the story make for a disjointed experience for both actors and audience. Yet CSC did a terrific job of presenting the play with verve and good humor. McGee was a hilarious unhinged teen, and Schute and Lytle played cousins Arcite and Palamon as slacker/hero bromance circa Bill and Ted in a grand Athenian misadventure.
Under Brian Isaac Phillips’ direction, this strange play allowed the strength of the company to shine through. It was a serious production that did not take itself too seriously, and that was the only sensible way to play it. When it could be beautiful, it was. When it could be moving, it was. And when it could be funny, it was really funny.
Overall, it was an exciting night as a dozen or so audience members stood to proclaim they were also completing their canon. There are few moments in life when you get to be a part of something bigger than the moment at hand — when you get to become a participant in cultural history. Take time to make history with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. You will be glad you did.
THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through May 25. More info: cincyshakes.com.