This is how rare sightings of “The Two Noble Kinsmen” are: in the last three decades there have been only three noteworthy London productions, staged in 1979, 1986 and 2000. And in Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Royal Shakespeare Company is midway through its marathon trek of the Bard’s entire canon, by way of twenty-three new in-house and thirty international productions, “Kinsmen” received only one matinee performance this past May. This is reason enough for any Shakespeare aficionado to get excited about Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s new production of “The Two Noble Kinsmen.” Director Darko Tresanjak’s strongly interpretive, visually stimulating and entertaining production is reason enough to go. The last play to which Shakespeare can be associated, and co-written by Jacobean playwright John Fletcher, “Kinsmen” at its most basic concerns Thebian princes and cousins Palamon and Arcite, and their mutual love and devotion that is tested when Athenian princess Emilia comes between them. But the love triangle at the heart of this production might as well be a pink one: the homoerotic tension between the male cousins (their trembling lips come oh-so-close on more than one occasion) is on par with the Sapphic strain that Emilia and one of her black female servants feel after the intrusion of these “mad men” (the former’s finger slowly traveling down the latter’s ebony shoulder suggests as much). The rest of Tresanjak’s frisky production is just as energetically charged, with its exploration of contemporary same-sex relations laudably building from this classic text rather than fighting to impose itself on it. If there’s one cavil it’s that the production lacks subtlety in some places. Indeed, like an over-hormonal teenager who doesn’t know when to quit, Tresanjak goes over the top with some of the visual puns: a final peace offering between the cousins involving food is turned into such a romantic spectacle (replete with picnic basket, wine bottle and burning candles) that you’d think a domestic partnership and not a duel to the death would be the logical outcome. But the verse speaking is some of the best I’ve heard at CST and Tresanjak’s final tableau beautifully memorializes his production’s concern with repressed desire and loss of innocence. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 800 East Grand on Navy Pier, (312)595-5600. Tue-Fri 7:30pm/Wed 1pm/Sat 3 & 8pm/Sun 3pm. $42 – $56. Through Dec 17.