‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ Review: Shakespeare, With a Hint of Celine Dion
For its return to the stage, the Drilling Company’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot series did not rely on a familiar delight from a catalog of the greatest hits. Instead, he chose a deep cut: “The two noble parents”. This play wasn’t even a solo effort for Shakespeare, who shares credit with John Fletcher, as a Jacobean version of James Patterson sharing authorship with lesser-known collaborators for his thrillers. This new version could also include a third culprit, director Hamilton Clancy, as the original is unlikely to contain references to Celine Dion and the ballad “I Will Always Love You”. (We check with the Folger Shakespeare Library.)
The popcorn aspect isn’t incidental either: while not high-end drama, there is certainly some entertainment potential in the sloppy and almost incoherent adventures of two cousins. Who fall in love with the same woman, with dark notes inserted at seemingly random intervals, and a time-consuming comedic subplot grafted on because why not? It’s a tragicomedy, so you need a bit of everything, and plays larger than this have thrived despite the devil’s logic.
Sadly, Clancy’s directing doesn’t tap that potential, and on a recent night at Bryant Park the production mostly relied on some serious enthusiasm. (The show moves to the parking lot of the Clemente Soto Vélez Culture and Education Center on the Lower East Side next week.)
In this iteration, the cousins are Palamon without socks and chinos (Bradford Frost) and slightly more brooding Arcite (John Caliendo, in a role played by, fun fact, David Harbor in the 2003 Public Theater production). In fact, they feel more like mismatched brothers from Delta Tau Chi, hitting the brewskis until they both fall in love with Emilia (Liz Livingston). Notice, it was enough to see her through the window of the cell where they found themselves after fighting the power, it is Theseus (Lukas Raphael).
This common passion for a comely lady who happens to be Theseus’ sister-in-law turns the young men into rivals, then they become friends again, then there is a fight, which doesn’t end well for one of them. As for Emilia, it doesn’t matter which cousin she prefers because the dying man has just offered her to the survivor.
Meanwhile, the Jailer’s Daughter may not be worthy of a character name, but still lands plenty of juicy comedic scenes after she becomes obsessed – also after just one look – with Palamon. It’s an excuse for actress Jane Bradley to happily chew up the scenery, except that we’re on the upper terrace in the park behind the New York Public Library and there isn’t one. To indicate when the jailer’s daughter totally loses the plot (like many of us in the audience), Bradley shows up with smeared lipstick, like a long lost relative of the Joker. A production interested in subtlety might have given off a poignant resonance in its descent into madness, like when Malvolio garners our sympathy after being humiliated in “Twelfth Night”, but it’s not that.
Apparently, Clancy’s concept was some sort of “modern spy story,” which is not highlighted in what we see. Then again, so many of these modern films are far-fetched and incomprehensible that the idea may be perfectly executed.
Two noble parents
July 28-30 at Clemente, Manhattan; shakespeareintheparkinglot.com. Duration: 1h45.
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