Like the last play they did, "Timon of Athens", "The Two Noble Kinsmen" is a play that probably no one would be performing today if it didn't have Shakespeare's name on it. It's a strange story, lifted by Fletcher and Shakespeare from “The Knight's Tale” in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, as the play's prologue frankly admits.
The two cousins, best buddies, fight for ancient Thebes against ancient Athens, are captured, spy Emilia, the sister of Queen Hippolyta, from their jail cell and both are smitten. End of friendship. They manage to get out of jail – one of them because the gaoler's daughter falls in love with him, but she goes mad when he ignores her. Free, they can fight each other for Emilia. There's no way this can end happily for everyone.
Robin Weatherall brings his experience from years with the Royal Shakespeare Company to his direction of this piece. He keeps the story clear and the pace reasonable. The cast handle the language pretty well, despite uncertainty about whether they're speaking American English or British English. Some are more comfortable with the period's speech than others, some project better than others.
This is a piece, set at royal courts and wild woods, that could use the help of richer sets than Pippin McGowen's creation designed to serve all the company's productions this year, though this does have a handsomely made horse's head hanging on one wall – perhaps the horse of the knight whose tale this is? The fabrics in Katie Donovan's Elizabethan costumes do provide some welcome richness. Jaime Zayas designed the lighting and director Weatherall's sound design is, as usual, shrewdly chosen.
Ben Ritchie and Ian Geary do well as the noble kinsmen and even manage to inject some humor into the early scenes. Ronnie Rossi makes a credible object of their desires, torn between them as she is. Emily Baker has smart reactions as her sister Queen Hippolyta, with Reginald Pierre a much put-upon King Theseus. Incidentally, this pair gets much better entertainment from the mechanicals who perform for them in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" than from the peasants who put on a Morris dance for them in this show, though the large cast generally does what it can with multiple roles. Hannah Pauluhn shows great promise in the difficult role of the Gaoler's Daughter, and Philip Bozich plays her father.
If you feel the need to see every play even partly by Shakespeare, St. Louis Shakespeare is giving you the chance to rack up one more, though I'm not sure Shakespeare would thank them for it.