Theater review: 'Kinsmen' portrays romantic rivalry

CorrespondentMay 27, 2014 

  • Details

    What: Shakespeare’s “Two Noble Kinsmen,” presented by Bare Theatre

    Where: Stephenson Amphitheatre, Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St.

    When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

    Tickets: $15

    Info: 919-821-3111 or

Any staging of “Two Noble Kinsmen” would alone merit recommendation, as it’s William Shakespeare’s least-known and least-mounted play. But Bare Theatre’s production in Raleigh Little Theatre’s amphitheater has worthiness beyond mere scarcity. Despite some distractions, “Kinsmen” has enough talent, sweep and special effects to make an enjoyable evening under the stars.

The play, co-authored by John Fletcher, was not accepted by Shakespeare scholars as authentic until the late 20th century. Written around 1614 and based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale,” the play centers on two Theban cousins, Arcite and Palamon, who are imprisoned after losing a battle against Athens. From their tower cell, both spy and fall in love with Athenian princess Emilia, setting up a rivalry that ultimately leads to a deadly duel for her hand.

Director G. Todd Buker subtitles his version “Fire and Shadows,” referencing the frequency of both concepts in the text. Scenes of ceremony and intrigue are enhanced with fire-burning devices that are juggled, spun and even worn by artists from Raleigh’s Cirque de Vol Studios. Battle scenes, sea voyages and representations of the gods are depicted through shadow play on the giant sail-like triangles that comprise Becky Olson’s unit set. Both elements, along with musical underscoring dominated by rhythmic drumming, fill the vast amphitheater space with satisfying scope.

Buker gets fine precision and energy from his 30-member cast, with leads who display admirable understanding and delivery of the text. Chris Hinton’s Arcite has heroic nobility; his jocular and eventually contentious encounters with Jason Bailey’s more contemporary-sounding Palamon are production highlights. Rebecca Blum plumbs the depths of Emilia’s anguish, while Katie Barrett commendably ranges from flirtatious to unhinged as the jailer’s daughter enamored with Palamon. Brook North is a commanding King Theseus and Seth Blum amuses with four distinct characterizations, although his dancing Schoolmaster goes into clownish overkill.

Amplification has improved from previous outings, but ongoing dropouts and a pervasive shrillness are still pesky liabilities. The constantly intense sound disallows character subtleties and its nondirectional nature makes it difficult to know who’s speaking in crowded scenes without additional physical indicators.

Nevertheless, Bare Theatre deserves credit for taking on such a daunting project with such positive results from its community-based cast and crew.


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