by Lynn on January 26, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont. Produced by Shakespeare BASH’d. Plays until Feb. 4, 2024.

Written by William Shakespear and John Fletcher

Directed by James Wallis

Fight director, Jennifer Dzialoszynski

Choreographer, Breanne Tice

Sound by Matt Nish-Lapidus

Lighting by Sruthi Suresan

Cast: Daniel Briere

Joshua Browne

Tristan Claxton

Jennifer Dzialoszynski

Steven Hao

Madelaine Hodges

Melanie Leon

Michael Man

Kate Martin

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Breanne Tice

Le Truong

Emilio Vieira

Jeff Yung

Bold, brisk, energetic, beautifully spoken and rigorous in telling the story clearly, as one expects of Shakespeare BASH’d.

NOTE: So, is The Tempest the last play that Shakespeare wrote or is it The Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakespeare and John Fletcher? Or is The Two Noble Kinsmen the last play of Shakespeare’s that was produced? Questions, questions. For those of us who love our Shakespeare plays and productions, it doesn’t matter in the long run.

The Story. The story is about the power of love and how it can challenge a close friendship. We are in ancient Greece. Theseus and Hippolyta are the rulers of Athens. Three queens plead with them to avenge the deaths of their husbands by Creon, king of Thebes, who refuses to give the kings a proper burial. Theseus agrees to wage war with Creon as a result.

Palamon and Arcite are Thebans. They are also cousins and very close friends. They fight the good fight against the Greeks but are taken prisoner when the Greeks win. From their prison cell, Palamon sees Princess Emilia, Hippolyta’s sister, and falls in love with her. Then Arcite sees her and falls in love with her too. This causes a rift in the friendship and the two men become bitter rivals.

Through various means both are released separately, Arcite is banished and Palamon goes into hiding. But they somehow meet again and have a sword-fight over who will win Emilia. They are discovered again by Theseus who orders they be arrested and executed. Again, good fortune intervenes with Theseus planning a final test. Arcite, Palamon and Emilia pray to the gods for different things and it all ends as it should, which does not necessarily mean a complete happy ending.  

The Production. The performance starts in the lobby with director James Wallis reciting background of the play from Chaucer. Wallis is confident, accommodating and brisk in his discourse. We are then invited to go into the theatre and settle.

The actors arrive in a swirl of elegant movement, forming patterns of relationships. The costumes for the characters are mostly black pants and tops, or rehearsal skirts for some women. There are few props. All the attention has been put into the exploration of the text regarding love, heterosexual between Palamon (Emilio Vieira), Arcite (Michael Man) and Emilia (Kate Martin), and the love of Palamon and Arcite for each other. Is it gay love? It’s a question Director James Wallis and his cast explore in this production.

The play and production also explore power, ruling and the moral dilemmas when tyrants (Creon) decide not to give proper burial to defeated kings. How does Theseus (Jeff Yung) deal with this?

If anything is truly clear in this vibrant production it’s that rigor rules. One gets the sense of the attention to the text and the language from this accomplished cast. There’s nary a slurred word here. It’s all enunciated, crisply. Clarity and comprehension are the result.

And then there are the deeper issues. The women look to the men to do right in a thorny situation. Creon will not give a proper burial to the three kings.  The three queens come to Theseus and Hippolyta (Melanie Leon) for action. They are determined. One can sense the unease of Theseus by Jeff Yung’s thoughtful, measured performance. He is not rash, but when he makes the decision, it is with firmness and determination.

As for the two noble kinsmen, Palamon and Arcite are loyal soldiers to Creon even though they think him a tyrant. When they are captured and imprisoned, they imagine idyllic surroundings together, until they both see Emilia and fall in love with her. The two men become rivals.

As Palamon, Emilio Vieira gleams with an energetic macho vitality. He almost bristles with the urge to enter any contest, fight or surrender to love. Matching him, but in a different way, is Michael Man as Arcite. Arcite is more of an intellectual when solving problems other than physically, although he never shies away from a fight. They are equally matched but in different ways. The sword fight between them created by fight director Jennifer Dzialoszynski, is breath taking. When those swords meet, they clang with force. This is a fight to the death until it’s broken up by Theseus.  At the end of the play one sees the intensity of true love and it’s heartbreaking.

The Two Noble Kinsmen is a play that is rarely done. Don’t miss your chance to see this terrific production.   

Comment. Just before the production began in the theatre, Jennifer Dzialoszynski lets us know the rules of turning off cellphones etc. And there is a replacement for the evening. In this time of COVID or flu or plague or whatever, people get sick and stalwarts step in the help out. One expects that an actor is off and this announces the replacement. Nope. It’s the stage manager who is not there for some reason.  So James Wallis, the director of this production, the co-artistic director of Shakespeare BASH’d will be ‘calling’ the show. That means he calls the cues, makes lights do magic, primes the actors to get ready for their entrances etc. and generally keeps the production going smoothly. And he was brilliant at that too.

From the programme: “Shakespeare BASH’d is an actor-driven initiative that seeks to make classical theatre welcoming, inviting and social.

Shakespeare BASH’d seeks to synthesize the classical with the modern, to look at the plays from a place of curiosity, joy, investigation, truth, and love.”I so love this company and the rigor and passion for Shakespeare they instill in every single production.  

Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Runs until Feb 4, 2024.

Running time: 3 hours (1 intermission)

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Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.