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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: November ::
TNK in NYC
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2112  Tuesday, 4 November 2003

From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Sunday, 2 Nov 2003 09:25:41 -0500
Subject:        TNK in NYC

"Students of terrible acting and directing (from which much can be
learned) should seek out the Public Theater's The Two Noble Kinsmen, by
John Fletcher with a hand (only a small one, one hopes) from William
Shakespeare.  Of interest as the last of Will--though one might have
wished for his earlier retirement--this tragicomedy is seldom performed,
and for good reason.  Based on Chaucer's tale, it concerns Palamon and
Arcite, noble Theban knights and fond cousins, who fall in love in the
same instant with Emilia and are therewith torn between fraternal
devotion and mortal combat until one of them conveniently dies.

We start at the court of Athens, where the wedding of Duke Theseus and
the Amazon queen Hippolyta (familiar from a much better play) is
interrupted by the plea of three widowed queens that Theseus avenge the
murder of their husbands by Creon, tyrant of Thebes.  That two of the
queens are played by men says less about the economics of casting than
about the absurdities of Darko Tresnjak, the director who also casts a
woman in drag as a doctor.  Tresnjak and his designer, David P. Gordon,
give us a triangular stage, with the audience on two sides of the
triangle, and some of the action in shadow play behind the translucent
hypotenuse.  Onto this stage is rolled a triangular cage for the
important prison scenes, the widely spaced bars forming a jungle gym for
the captive Palamon and Arcite to perform their monkeyshines on.  Yet
for all this triangulation, Tresnjak cannot find the locus of the play,
what with the kinsmen sorely lacking the eponymous nobility and, like
most of the rest, inept at Shakespearean, or even Fletcherian, diction.
Tresnjak's concept of classical acting is crass exaggeration, and when
in doubt, shout.

In the subplot that concerns the jailer's daughter's hopeless passion
for Palamon, until she goes mad and is inveigled into marrying her
humble wooer (who impersonates the dark-haired Palamon by wearing a
canary-yellow dish mop on his head), Jennifer Ikeda is such a
hyperactive, Ritalin-deprived Daughter that her subsequent
over-the-Everest madness cries out for a prompt padded cell, triangular
or otherwise.  Emilia, played and spoken by Doan Ly as a ditsy Valley
Girl, would induce only two very astigmatic knights to fall in love with
her at first, or any, sight.  Opal Alladin plays the Amazon queen as a
piece of wood lost in dreams of its native forest; and Tyrone Mitchell
Henderson's majordomo seems to have been recruited from a shady East
Village bar.

As Palamon, Graham Hamilton is making his professional debut playing
something like Arcite's infant brother, and shakes his Shakespeare like
a baby's rattle.  David Harbour's Arcite is a big lug who, when he stops
reciting or ranting, can actually approximate well-spokenness.  Liam
Craig's Wooer might speak even better were he not misdirected into
ninnydom.  Sam Tsoutsouvas, as Thesues, flaunts his habitual love affair
with his overripe voice with an orotundity that reeks of
self-adulation.  However, the talented Gordon's scenery is not without
appeal, though it should be in front of, not behind, the actors."

--John Simon, New York Magazine, November 3, 2003

I haven't seen this production and don't know whether I would embrace
every one of Simon's strictures.  However, I am familiar with David
Harbour's work and can attest to both his talent and his persistent
problems, of which a tendency to lapse into ranting loutishness is
indeed one.  I do share Simon's irreverence towards the play itself,
which is a ceremonious bore from beginning to end (the jailer's daughter
and a stray speech or two excepted).  Finally, I join in Simon's
loathing of cross-gender casting, which always prevents a role from
being successfully realized.

--Charles Weinstein

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