Any staging of Two Noble Kinsmen would alone merit recommendation, as its William Shakespeares least-known and least-mounted play. But Bare Theatres production in Raleigh Little Theatres 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 Chaucers Knights 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 Raleighs 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 Olsons 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 Hintons Arcite has heroic nobility; his jocular and eventually contentious encounters with Jason Baileys more contemporary-sounding Palamon are production highlights. Rebecca Blum plumbs the depths of Emilias anguish, while Katie Barrett commendably ranges from flirtatious to unhinged as the jailers 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 whos 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.