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Beate Hein Bennett

“Men are Mad Things…”

"The Two Noble Kinsmen" by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare
The Drilling Company’s Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Thurs. through Sat. July 15, 16, 17 and Wed. through Fri. July 28, 29, 30 at 7 PM, Parking Lot of the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, Sub: F to Delancey Str., M to Essex Str.
Presented by The Drilling Company and co-presented by The Clemente and Bryant Park Corporation. Performances at Bryant Park @ 42nd Str. July 19, 20, 21 at 7:30.
Productions are FREE but donations gratefully accepted at www.drillingcompany.org. Info: www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett, July 20, 2021.

THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN -- L-R: Brad Frost (as Palemon) and John Caliendo (as Arsite).

You can still catch this open-air “rompcomtragedy”—my newly coined phrase for this wildly energetic romp in the parking lot behind The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side. I caught it in Bryant Park on July 20. The play is a sort of Shakespearian but more John Fletcher inflected Jacobean sex tragicomedy with verbal jousts, super-sexed hyperboles, and grandiloquent heroics. The director, Hamilton Clancy, Artistic Director of The Drilling Company has produced a cut version of less than two hours with his energetic ensemble, including such Drilling Company stalwarts Brad Frost as Palamon and John Caliendo as Arcite, the two “Noble Kinsmen”, and comedian Jane Bradley as the over-the-top sex-starved Jailer’s Daughter. Other ensemble members include Liz Livingston, Lucas Raphael, Mary Linehan, JaQuawn Turner and Remy.S, all of whom master the verse and the actions with alacrity and grace. (There are no paper programs with specific role assignments.) Karla Hendrick served as Assistant Director. Sofia Piccolo designed an assortment of modern every day costumes that characterized the roles in an emblematic manner. Jennifer Varbelow devised with simple effective props the various play locales in the performance space. Thus the play moves quickly and unencumbered from scene to scene and gives the audience the true pleasure of LIVE PERFORMANCE, after the long COVID enforced dearth of live theatre.

Jane Bradley as The Jailer's Daughter.

“The Two Noble Kinsmen” was penned by John Fletcher with presumed co-authorship of Shakespeare towards the end of his theatrical career before retiring to Stratford where he died in 1616. It is not included in the First Folio of 1623 put together by Ben Jonson. However, it was published in 1634 as a quarto (an actors’ text) and entered in the Stationer’s Register as “a Tragi Comedy Written by the memorable Worthies of their time; Mr. John Fletcher, and Mr. William Shakespeare, Gent[lemen].” There are indications that the Fletcher-Shakespeare collaboration can be dated as early as 1613. The source of the play is Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” in which the story of the two noble kinsmen, Palamon and Arcite, nephews to Creon, the King of Thebes, become hostages to Theseus, the King of Athens during a skirmish between the two city-states. Mixed into the affairs of state are the wedding between Theseus and Hippolyta, the Amazon conquered by Theseus—also used in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play also features Emilia, Hippolyta’s sister, as the love pawn and source of conflict between the two noble kinsmen. As comic leavening tothe evolving tragicomic conflict between the young cousins who are competing for the love of Emilia, we follow the actions and mad ravings of the sex-starved Jailer’s Daughter (no name) and her frustrated nameless Wooer— as directed by Mr. Clancy, he courts with a drooping sprig of roses to no avail but with great comic effect.

Dave Marantz as Jailer, Jane Bradley as Jailer's Daughter, Remy.S as the daughter's Suitor.

The play must have been conceived for the 16th century Jacobean audience as pure entertainment with no apparent great moral message, or political undertone, and as such it still works today. It is full of sex (verbal), action (nimble sword fighting and grandiose declarations of war), confusions (role-playing), and pageantry (from wedding ceremony to funeral dirge). In terms of production values, The Drilling Company dispatches all of this with simple imaginative devices, and that is part of the production’s charm. It is unpretentious fun that emanates from the actors and grabs the audience. I attended the performance in Bryant Park-- watched over by the statue of William Cullen Bryant—I was pleased to see children in attendance who were fully engaged in the theatrical happening and afterwards felt free to jump into the performance space; one little girl danced with Palamon while boys chased each other around the statue. This is the real spirit of theatre as a social art!


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