By Molly Cox
It’s a nice day for a white wedding (or four) at the Anacosita Arts Center’s black box theater, where Brave Spirits Theatre is holding its production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Jessica Aimone, and The Two Noble Kinsmen, directed by Charlene V. Smith. The black box is cozy, informal space to experience the two plays, with no bad seat in the house.
Most are familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous comedy. Set in ancient Greece during the eve of Theseus, the Duke of Athens’ wedding to Hippolyta, four young, jealous, Athenian lovers and a troupe of amateur actors have a wild, magic-potion fueled night in the forest when they are set upon by a group of fairies. There are several reality-TV worthy break-ups and make-ups, but each character ends up with the person he or she is meant to be with. In the morning, the characters wonder, “What the hell happened last night?” and have a good laugh about their misadventures. Kelly Elliot shines particularly bright with her hilarious portrayal of Bottom the weaver, who is temporarily transformed into an anthropomorphic donkey. The physical comedy performed by the entire cast is on-point, especially from Renana Fox as the very petite and passionate Hermia. This production is an especially bawdy interpretation of the classic, ethereal comedy, for better or worse.
The Two Noble Kinsmen was written by Shakespeare in collaboration with another playwright, John Fletcher, and is based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. It is performed far less often than A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a bit less known. It takes the audience back to Theseus’s realm, where once again love and jealousy cause trouble. Princes, cousins, and best friends Arcite and Palamon are captured and imprisoned by Theseus, who is at war with their homeland. They profess their undying brotherly love to each other, until in a flash they become enemies when they see Theseus’s sister, Emilia (who, unfortunately for the boys hints at her preference for women). They agree to participate in a contest where the victor will win the right to marry Emilia, and the loser will be executed. This time around there is not such a joyful ending, and one cousin must face the fact that he has lost his best friend for a woman who is essentially a stranger. In addition to this, the jailer’s daughter appears as a haunting, tragic character in a mostly light-hearted production, and is portrayed brilliantly by Jenna Berk. She falls in love with Palamon and frees him from prison, but is driven insane by grief and confusion when he rejects her. David Mavricos too, gives an expert performance as Arcite, who seems touchingly mystified at how quickly his relationship with his beloved cousin goes sour.
The caliber of acting from Brave Spirits is superb; which is even more impressive considering all of the young cast members perform in both plays. Each is perfectly suited to his or her character. The two performances are also tied together by the set, and several of the same songs are performed in both. Each opens with a rather solemn rendition of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” as well as Pete Townshed’s “Let my Love Open the Door.” I’m not sure that 80’s hits and 16th century theater go together as well as the directors might have hoped. Performing two, four hundred year-old plays in one afternoon is enough of a challenge to take on without adding gimmicks. However, the live instrumental elements (which include a trumpet, cello, guitar, and drums), add a great deal to the experience.
It isn’t difficult to see why these two plays still resonate with audiences today. Most of us have had a rough morning after, experienced jealousy and loss, or been driven to the edge of our wits by betrayal. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Two Noble Kinsmen remind us that when love, or at least infatuation is involved, rational thoughts and actions go out the window. They also warn us that there are often casualties in passionate affairs as well; love and war are sometimes one in the same.
With these two plays performed in repertory in a small space, Brave Spirits Theatre provides us an opportunity for an intimate Shakespeare experience. The shows run until December 7th. Tickets are $20 for one play, or $30 if you want to devote an entire day to Shakespearean comedy/tragicomedy and see both.
Images courtesy of Brave Spirits Theatre