Jacques Roy as Arcite and Scott Raker as Palamon are the Two Noble Kinsmen. Photo by Piper Goodeve.
BOTTOM LINE: It's an imperfect Shakespearean play that theatre companies have always avoided producing, but GSP does a solid job shaping the story and telling a mighty entertaining tale.
Have you ever seen Shakespeare's The Two Noble Kinsmen? No? Oh, right. That's because no one ever produces it. Ever. Because it's not seen as, ehem, the greatest of Shakespeare's work. It is believed that Shakespeare co-wrote the tragicomedy with John Fletcher and since the script is often random, inconsistent and confusing, it has fallen into relative obscurity. So why did Guerrilla Shakespeare Project think it was an enterprise they might like to tackle? I really can't say. But luckily, they figured out a way to make it super entertaining.
Let's be honest, there is a reason it's never produced. The Two Noble Kinsmen is an imperfect script. But GSP does a commendable job crafting the story so it's easy to follow with clear characters and mounting conflict. It maintains the standards of Shakespearean comedies: mistaken identity, love triangles, family feuding, getting lost in the woods, etc. Although the story never really registers as anything more than a big 'ol farce, that's probably okay for this presentation, as GSP plays on the fact that everyone in the room knows the story isn't totally realistic (actors included, although they play their hearts out).
The opening scene is a musical prologue, written by GSP, to the tune of John Denver's " Take Me Home, Country Roads." Their version is "Take Me Home, Grecian Roads." Pretty funny, right? So immediately, the audience knows that they're all in this together and that no one is going to take themselves too seriously. And that's an important set-up because this isn't the kind of show one could over-analyze in a typically sophisticated way (as you could with most other Shakespearean shows). Music underscores the rest of the show as well, played by the cast members themselves, and thrown in to lighten things up.
Other tactics to up the entertainment quotient involve clever staging by director Diana Buirski. The playing space involves several entrances plus levels behind the audience at times. This keeps the story somewhat unpredictable, visually speaking. And since the Medicine Show Theatre is just a big black box, the production is pretty much on its own to create the space as it sees fit. The extra space (something rare for off-off-Broadway) also gives The Two Noble Kinsmen opportunities to add dance, a sword fight and impressive gymnastic stunts (from the buff Jacques Roy).
Acting-wise, the ensemble is all equipped to be reciting old English. They are clearly comfortable with classic text and they are eloquent in the telling of the story. They also definitely understand the story at hand (shout-out to dramaturg Haas Regen). Kimiye Corwin, as the naive-turned-seriousy-insane Jailer's Daughter, gives a stand-out performance. She portrays innocence and spunk in the first half of the play, and then after she goes nuts trying to find the man she loves somewhere in the woods, Corwin gives a stellar crazy-lady tirade. This girl's got talent.
If you like Shakespeare or want to add a rare gem (?) to your own personal Canon, get your butt to the west side of town and check out The Two Noble Kinsmen. It's more an exercise in creative storytelling, rather than a transcendental theatrical experience. It's silly in almost an SNL/spoof way, but the humor is sincere and doesn't overshadow the plot. At the end of the day GSP really wants to pay a tribute to Shakespeare and do justice to the text, and their good intentions shine through the schtick. I gotta say, I didn't know what to expect, but I left the theatre pleasantly surprised.
(The Two Noble Kinsmen plays at The Medicine Show Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, through January 17th. Performances are Thursday at 7:30, Friday at Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $18 and are available at smarttix.com or by calling 646.596.8031. For more show info visit guerrillashakespeare.com.)