Bare Theatre’s Two Noble Kinsmen: Fire & Shadows opened on Friday, May 23 to a large crowd at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Stephenson Amphitheater. Produced in collaboration with Raleigh Little Theatre and Cirque de Vol Studios, Bare Theatre brings to life one of the lesser-known and lesser-produced Shakespearean works. Two Noble Kinsmen was written just a few years before the Bard’s death with Shakespeare’s apprentice, the then up and coming playwright, John Fletcher. The tale is taken from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale,” which is a part of The Canterbury Tales. Different from Shakespeare’s other works and yet noticeably his, Two Noble Kinsmen has some of the principle players go off into the woods, there’s a strange sort of folk dance, two men are going to duel, and one poor girl goes incredibly mad.
Director G. Todd Buker discusses in his director’s note how he finds it odd that Two Noble Kinsmen is not often produced, and I must agree with him. Certainly there is nothing in the story that would make it less desirable.
Bare Theatre’s adaptation uses large scrims, pyrotechnics, and fire dancing to enhance and tell the story. Battle scenes are performed partially behind the scrim and fire dancing is used throughout. A seat in the back will let you see it all, but a seat up close will let you feel the heat and be a bit more in the world. My favorite use of the scrim was the tableau in the final moments. I only wish the light had been longer to fully appreciate the shadows’ picture.
While there was an overall strong cast of principles, Rebecca Blum (Princess Emilia) mastered the clarity of language and the clarity of storytelling. She was one of the main actors who was able to paint a clear picture with her words while making the language feel natural. Chris Hinton (Arcite) brought high energy and dynamic tone that created life in every scene he was a part of. Katie Barrett, who plays the jailer’s daughter who goes mad, was a sight to be seen and experienced as her range of emotional states drew the audience in. Barrett’s connection to the audience in her soliloquies captured their attention. While the jailer’s daughter’s fate becomes a subplot, she was the one I found myself caring the most for.
Though the production had an inspiring score designed by Director G. Todd Buker, the sound struggled with a rocky start. Buker’s sound design heavily used percussion to set the tone, which felt very medieval and enhanced the fire dancing and acrobatics – compliments of Cirque de Vol Studios. The major issue with sound was the microphones. If you’ve ever been a sound technician or sound operator, you know the pain and anxiety of that job. If you haven’t had that job before, you probably just want to know why “those people” can’t get it together. Primarily it seemed as though some actors either weren’t mic-ed, the sound operator wasn’t turning the mics on at the appropriate times, or the mics were faulty. Any of those scenarios could have been the case, but the downfall was that the audience missed some text at the beginning and the beginning felt very discombobulated. A first night issue? Perhaps. A few light cues that were noticeably a little late was another technical mishap – again, probably due to it being the first night. The real technical issue didn’t arise until intermission. I believe a twenty-minute intermission was scheduled – yes, twenty minutes. I presume it was for you to go buy more food and drinks. (Now, a really cool thing for this production is that for every performance there are food trucks and they sell snacks and drinks, too. The list of food and drinks can be found on Raleigh Little Theatre’s website. I totally dig outdoor theatre and dining outside, so kudos for smart business moves.) Back to the issue: A twenty-minute intermission turned into a thirty-minute intermission. Finally someone announced that they were experiencing technical difficulties and that the show would continue shortly. Unfortunately, about a handful of people had left by that point and did not return. The strange Morris dance that occurred right before intermission may not have been the best place to break. Finally the play did resume, but with the extended intermission, it was a three-hour show.
All technical glitches and snafus were overshadowed by the exquisite costumes designed by Bonnie Raddatz and built by a large team of assistants. The overall production was aesthetically beautiful. From the elegant shadow silhouettes to the incredible acrobatics and fire dancing, it was all impressive.
The characters, on the whole, were well performed and the direction of the entire production was very clear. If you’re looking for a good way to kick-off your weekend, there aren’t many better things to do than experience outdoor theatre on a warm summer night.
Bare Theatre, Raleigh Little Theatre, and Cirque de Vol Studios bring a fresh breath to Shakespeare and Fletcher’s work, and the spectacles certainly make for added entertainment. Two Noble Kinsmen: Fire & Shadows runs Thursday, May 29 through Saturday, May 31. Performances start at 8:00 PM, but gates open at 7:00 PM so you can take advantage of the food trucks and get a great seat. Don’t miss this rare play – it may not come around again soon!
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