By Barbara B. Covell
Photos by Chris Graamans
For the TODAY
It is the final act in William Shakespeare’s legacy of works, an intoxicating story of love, betrayal and resilient women in a chauvinist male society. Co-authored with John Fletcher, this 17th-Century tragicomedy explores cultural awareness and social change in a way that resonates to this day.
The Red Octopus Theatre Company presents “Two Noble Kinsmen” at the Newport Performing Arts Center, under the direction of Milo Graamans. This is Graamans’ directorial debut and he packs a powerful punch — delivering a superior production with some of Lincoln County’s best actors. Together they have created a show that interprets Shakespeare’s intent with a clarity in delivery, staging and set design. The distinctive hallmarks of Shakespearean language are delivered with coherence, so audiences can enjoy the rich themes and comedy.
The storyline follows two cousins, Palamon and Arcite, who are best friends and knights at arms for the kingdom of Thebes. They are captured in battle and imprisoned by the Duke Theseus of Athens. From their cell windows they see a beautiful woman, Emilia, who is the sister of The-seus’s wife, Hippolyta. They both fall instantly in love with Emilia, turning their relationship from an intimate friendship to a jealous rivalry in the space of a minute. This sets the stage for absurd adventures and painful confusions in this story about the strange and toxic effects of love.
“At the heart, this is a story about two guys fighting over a woman who doesn’t want to be with either one of them,” Graamans said. “Because the conflict becomes so escalated and violent, she ends ups agreeing to marry the victor — but, that’s quite the sacrifice for her. This is really thought provoking today in our society as we talk about ways in which men are used to getting their way in the world. Although Emilia doesn’t get a chance to have much say in the situation, she is easily the one character it is easiest to empathize with. Overall, it may not be so simple as a winner and a loser.”
Newcomer Zach Wagner and stage veteran Joshua Lawrence shine as Arcite and Palamon.
“Both Josh and Zach have really taken the time and energy to bring out the contrasts in these characters, “Graamans said. “They are cousins and best friends until the conflict over Emilia, when everything changes. But we can still see their compassion for each other.”
The sword fights between Arcite and Palamon are electric and powerful, with Wagner and Lawrence making these dynamic scenes sizzle. Graamans credits Nathan Bush, a stage combat instructor at OSU, for the choreography of the swordplay.
The riveting and amusing subplot mastered by Nikki Atkins as the Jailer’s Daughter is not to be missed. She expertly journeys from unrequited love into madness. This leads to some funny scenes with Elizabeth Hoover as The Doctor who tries to restore her sanity. William Derek Webster portrays The Wooer, who creatively seeks the Jailer’s Daughter’s affections, but will he succeed?
Thespians Rhodd Caldwell and Linda Haggerty bring much originality and stage experience to their roles as Theseus and Hippolyta. Melissa MacDonald is Emilia, a radiant yet conflicted “prize” in a fight to the death. Leo Johns is well cast as Pirithous, efficacious friend to Theseus.
Other cast include Brian Haggerty as The Jailer, Cassie Beal as Emilia’s Lady, Kylie MacDonald as The Jailer’s Friend, Lizzie Watson as Valerius and Lucy Furuheim as Artesius.
Graamans credits Joshua Lawrence for his concepts and interpretation of a minimalist set design. Barbara Perkins is stage manager, Ron Miller provided lighting design, Darcy Hogan designed costumes, and Graamans himself contributed the sound design.
“Two Noble Kinsmen” opens Friday, March 2, in the PAC’s Black Box Stage and continues every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 18, with performances at 7 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 pm matinées each Sunday. A 7 pm performance will also take place on Thursday, March 15.
Tickets, $18.50 for adults or $16.50 for students and seniors, are available by calling 541-265-ARTS. For more information, go to www.coastarts.org.