“Prepare for strangeness,” Tim Slover advised. Known for his most recent work “Virtue” at Plan B Theatre Company, the local playwright recently turned his pen to Shakespeare in conjunction with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! Project, producing “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” originally written by both Shakespeare and his associate John Fletcher.
“They had collaborated at least one play before, ‘Henry VIII.’ But this one I think has more of Fletcher and Fletcher’s ideas, like elaborate dances and things like that,” Slover explained. “And so, it has an epic quality to it that I mostly attribute to Fletcher, but it also has that kind of personal, memorable characters quality that I attribute mostly to Shakespeare. And they kind of mix together in a really weird way.”
While “The Two Noble Kinsmen” may not be Shakespeare’s most recognizable play, this particular production has created a unique text for audiences to engage in.
“I don’t think of what I created as a text, it’s just a script. Randy [Reyes, director] and the cast and the designers and everybody together have created from it a theatrical text which only exists in the performing space,” Slover said. “For example, Randy really picked up on the idea that everything is either set just before a battle, or during a battle, or just after a battle where we see the aftermath. So there’s really a military mien to it, as much with the women as with the men […] I’m really excited to see it translate.”
As part of the Play On! Project, this particular script has gone through a variety of workshops. The first occurred last spring through the Department of Theatre’s New Play Workshop. “The script that was done in that workshop was the closest I ever got to a literal correspondence of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s script to my script. Which meant that if it was in that script, it was in my script,” Slover said.
The writing process proved to be no easy task. “The charge that all the translators were given was ‘do no harm’ […] It meant staying true to the script that Shakespeare and Fletcher wrote in every particular, but also the other part of our charge was that it was meant to be something that was truly theatrical, and also communicate to a contemporary audience. Those three things didn’t always go together easily,” Slover said.
A few months after that first effort, Slover traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota and worked with Randy Reyes, as well as dramaturgs Martine Kei Green-Rogers and Alex Vermillion on further development. “Minnesota was sort of a transition […] Some really good actors read that fairly clunky original script, and began to point the way toward production.”
Slover described “The Two Noble Kinsmen” as part of Shakespeare’s work post-tragedy. “It’s what happens in your life after the tragedy if you’re not killed […] with this play, there’s always a sense in the audience that you’re not quite sure if you’re supposed to laugh or if you’re supposed to be horrified […] It shows that life is this mixed bag all the time. That seems very contemporary to me. It’s never really unmixed. It’s never really all funny, or all serious, or all tragic, or all joyous. It’s all mixed up together, and that’s how this play is.”
“The Two Noble Kinsmen” opens this week in the Babcock Theatre. For more information, please visit www.theatre.utah.edu, and be sure to check out our dramaturg, round table (full transcript here) and director interviews.