In this article I’m going to talk about three shows I’ve reviewed this week; Noir by GDP Productions, The Homosexuals as part of Quince Productions’ GayFest!, and Two Noble Kinsmen, a free Shakespeare production of The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. I will also offer a series of images which show different ways in which one play—in this case, 2NK—could be designed, as alternatives to the relatively basic design of PST’s show.
A very exciting theater company (I’d like to say “new” but just unknown to me and, it seems, the internet), GDP Productions, put together a show called Noir, featuring five local playwrights offering homage to that genre. It wasn’t uniformly great . . . but it definitely offered something new. The company makes “quick, twisted, cool, cheap” theater. I got to do a brief review on phindie, and there’s an interview on Art Attack with the head honcho, and director of Noir, James Kiesel. I didn’t do the interview.
In the slightly more main-stage world, Quince Productions is presenting The Homosexuals, Philip Dawkins’ much-acclaimed comedy about relationships and American gay culture in the 2000’s, and The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s annual free production, Two Noble Kinsmen, is closing this weekend.
I wrote about one for Phindie and one for Art Attack already. Both plays are worth seeing for different reasons. Dawkins’ award-nominee play is certainly a modern masterwork, the kind of play which could be taught in the classroom (in thirty years’ time, of course) for plotting, character-design and structure. It’s pretty mainstream in all of these aspects. Thematically it is slightly blue, considering itself with homosexual relationships and showing a few raunchy same-sex encounters, and the relationships are portrayed so honestly and fairly that the play is easily relatable to a straight audience, even one not interested in gay culture – though of course this easy relatability between the two worlds is what makes the play truly powerful.
What strikes me about this play are A) the steady breakdown of the friend group and, with it, the dissolution of youthful naiveté (20-year-old Evan arrives in Chicago hoping to find a “family”; over the course of ten years he sleeps with most of the people in that family, and they all end up talking behind one-another’s backs; by 2010 he breaks up with the last of them), and B) the depiction of 20’s careering and carousing.
These days, with everyone wanting to have their own career – that’s right, women too – and with jobs being unreliable and unstable, the 20’s are spent drinking box wine in one-another’s living rooms, reading books or watching Netflix in your own house, and working jobs you aren’t particularly happy about.
The Homosexuals is honest about this. Evan has a job, but it is clear that he doesn’t feel at home there, and he never seems to become much of a professional. Tam quits her promising university career to follow the idealistic route of serving underprivileged kids in urban schools; she quickly loses that idealism. Peter directs fringe theater for a living, and is broke; only British Mark seems to have a good career and a solid paycheck. No one looks like much of an adult, nor, as Evan spends an entire decade trying to find himself, is there much of an idea of what an “adult” is.
Two Noble Kinsmen is worth seeing, if not only for the fact that it is at times very funny, also for the unusual choice of play (will you ever see Two Noble Kinsmen again? would you read it on your own?) and the inventive direction of Aaron Cromie.
That’s not to say that there are no good performances. There are great scenes here, like all of The Jailer’s Daughter’s monologues. More often, this play, as it is part of a teaching series, is more of a pleasure in that you see the artists in-process; these are not accomplished actors dancing through a masterwork, but recent theater initiates struggling with a bizarre text and its weird characters. There are delightful moments and interesting choices, daring ones which accomplished actors might not go for.
In summer 2012 at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre Aaron Cromie directed Titus Andronicus, another rarely produced Shakespeare, though for different reasons. Two Noble Kinsmen is unpopular because there is little in it which isn’t done better in other Shakespeares. Titus productions are scant because it is so wildly violent that most companies don’t know what to do with it.
Cromie knew what to do with Titus; also an accomplished puppeteer and designer, he studied up on France’s Grand Guignol, crafted some incredible puppets, hired Natalia de la Torre as his costumer, and bought a shit-ton of fake blood to spray all over the audience. He also cut it down to an absurdly short length of two hours, pulled laughs out of the poetry like loose threading out of an H&M t-shirt, and only then dug into the emotional reality and sickening violence of Shakespeare’s swaggering first tragedy.
Two Noble Kinsmen felt like it could have done with a bit more cutting, and a more focused concept. Cromie shot for a straight-forward production here; an admirable shot at invigorating a not-great script yielded mediocre results. Most of his jokes play very well, and the production is worth going to for laughs alone. But the drama is not always such a hit; it is at times laughable itself, and at times simply drags.