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Measure for Measure

Circle In The Square theatre students excel in adding comedy to a dark Shakespeare play

 

Shakespeare’s comedies are known for being, well, not exactly comedic – often rather dark, with touches of humor in the dialogue if you know what you’re hearing. In modern comedy performance, Shakespearean theatre is more easily digested and enjoyed as comedy when inspiring a group like Improvised Shakespeare (see review, 8/12/09).

 

The Circle in the Square Theatre School’s brief production of “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” seen May 29 and running just through May 31, succeeds in some respects in taking on the challenge of playing up the comedy in Shakespeare’s play in a manner in keeping with modern, and yes, American, sensibilities.

 

The play is a complex and long one (this production was at least three hours plus intermission), and the first half felt a bit scattered as far as connecting the various plots and sub-plots and making the story and relationships clear. In short, the kinsmen of the title, fellow Theban soldiers Palamon and Arcite, captured by the enemy, fall for the princess Emilia when they see her through their prison cell window. Through circumstances of battle, and prison escapes, they end up in the court of Theseus, the duke, and his queen, Hipployta, where they vie to win Emilia, sister of Hippolyta. There is also the second story, interwoven, of the jailer’s daughter, who is smitten with Palamon.

 

The standout comedic scene in the first half of this production is one where Palamon and Arcite, imprisoned, argue over who saw Emilia first and who should get the first chance with her, or have the right to woo her. Even as they’re restrained with their arms handcuffed behind their heads, Sean Loftus as Palamon and Johnny Viel as Arcite show a fine sense of the absurdity as their squabble turns into them trying to kick at each other in futility. The dark comedy of the way they played this could have fit easily into either a Tarantino movie or a Monty Python farce.

 

The second half of the production saw all the threads and plots come together more readily and the dialogue become more accessible to the audience, possibly through the actors’ delivery but also through little gestures, as shown by Cecilia Senocak as Hippolyta, and Seth McNeill as Theseus. At times when Theseus and advisors are debating and devising how to either punish Palamon and Arcite (they are from the enemy camp, after all) or whether to allow one to marry Emilia (who loves them both and cannot choose), Senocak touches McNeill’s hands or fits in a subtle expression of reaction to the proceedings, that adds to clueing in the audience as to which direction the decision could go.

 

Senocak scowls quite a bit in reaction to the grave events, but her great concern for the momentous choice to be made comes through and the audience feels her sympathy for her sister’s dilemma. The duo of Senocak and McNeill also have their share of dramatic fireworks, as in a scene where Theseus reprimands Hippolyta for her opinion on how to proceed, striking out at her.

 

It’s a delicate balance for any actors to emphasize the comedy in a Shakespeare play, but the students of the Circle in the Square school do accomplish this in some measures, with this production. They execute the drama well, and carefully calibrated the doses of comedy they added to the play.

 

   

     

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