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So, here's a marriage plot twist not yet explored on a season of "The Bachelorette": Imagine what might happen after two soldiers, in the deprivation of a foreign prison, find themselves attracted to the same woman.
After one man escapes and the other is freed, the lifelong friends are pitted against each other, forced to fight to the death, in an attempt to win the woman's love.
Meanwhile, the bachelorette at the center of the conflict, who is a warrior herself, wants nothing to do with the duel. She decides to not even watch the battle.
Making this story of obsessive love even more Quentin Tarantino-esque is this wrinkle: Another woman, the jailer's daughter, goes crazy after she falls in love with one of the soldiers, who doesn't even seem to notice her.
That's a rough plot outline of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's "The Two Noble Kinsmen," a thematic mashup of militaristic morality tale and dark comedy. The play is so rarely produced that even the most ardent Shakespeare fans have likely never seen a production.
Now playwright Tim Slover, in concert with dramaturg and fellow University of Utah theater professor Martine Kei Green-Rogers, has created a contemporary translation of the play as part of Oregon Shakespeare Festival's groundbreaking Play on! series.
The premiere of "Kinsmen," which runs Friday through April 15, marks the first university production that's part of the national project's 39 commissioned "companion translations."
Local theatergoers might know Slover's work from the recent Plan-B production of "Virtue," his play about Hildegard, a 12th-century Christian mystic who is credited with writing the world's first opera. His works include other historical plays featuring figures such as George Frederick Handel ("Joyful Noise"), Benjamin Franklin ("Lightning Rod") and Alexander Hamilton ("Treasure").
"Kinsmen," adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale," could be considered a late-period romance in that it doesn't follow Shakespearean rules for either comedies or tragedies, Slover says. In the way the story rockets between sad and goofy moments, it might be suited to the tastes of audience members used to the grim horror of, well, Tarantino screenplays.
"Kinsmen" is also unusual in that it features strong female characters, reminiscent of the daughters of "King Lear." Slover believes Shakespeare and Fletcher found irony in the impossible choices of the female characters, adding narrative layers that weren't part of Chaucer's original tale.
The production has given students a chance to dig deep into Shakespearean language and be part of a national conversation surrounding the high-profile Play on! project, says Green-Rogers, who received about $37,000 in grant funding for the production (including a Utah grant that's pass-through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts).
A portion of the original text is filled with antiquated references and "super gnarly language," Green-Rogers says.
In some sections, Slover jettisoned the iambic pentameter for clarity. In other places, the playwright embraced the meter, rhythm and rhyme of Shakespeare and Fletcher's original language. "It's really an interesting combination of all of the rules of the Play on! project combined into one," she says.
The national project is about experimentation, as it paired playwrights with dramaturgs the slate of theater artists represents a diversity of gender and ethnic backgrounds not found in Shakespeare's theater company to create contemporary translations that might break open the meanings embedded in Shakespeare's canon.
Beyond Slover and Green-Rogers, Utah is represented by David Ivers, the co-artistic director at Utah Shakespeare Festival, who worked with dramaturg Lezlie C. Cross, from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, on "As You Like It."
As purists might imagine, the announcement of the project sparked immediate controversy. "A waste of money and talent," Shakespeare scholar and Columbia English professor James Shapiro raged in The New York Times.
Playwrights and dramaturgs were asked to "first do no harm," and then to "put the same pressure and rigor of language as Shakespeare did on his, keeping in mind meter, rhythm, metaphor, image, rhyme, rhetoric and emotional content." Play on! isn't an effort to "dumb down" Shakespeare's language but rather to "specify up," writes OSF's artistic director Bill Rauch in American Theatre magazine.
Students in the cast helped director Randy Reyes create a unique world for the show, inspired by the post-apocalyptic look of "Hunger Games." "We created our own war-torn country," Reyes says.
Reyes is appreciating this full-circle theatrical moment, as "Kinsmen" offered him a chance to return to the place where he first studied theater in the mid-1990s. And there's this: Playing Emilia, the Amazonian woman at the center of the story, is Reyes' cousin Ashley Ramos, currently a student in the U.'s Acting Training Program.
"I'm rehearsing this show where I learned to act and in the first place I ever taught," says Reyes, who went on to study at Juilliard and now is artistic director of Minneapolis' Mu Performing Arts, a pan-Asian company.
In rehearsals, Reyes invited a Marine major, a veteran of campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, to answer cast questions about what it was like to be stationed in war zones. He also incorporated physical training, ranging from yoga to militaristic calisthenics, to help the cast develop the stature of soldiers. "They look like Amazonian warriors now," Slover says of the cast, who include some of his former students.
Bringing the often-overlooked Shakespearean story to stage has been complicated. "On the intellectual and practitioner levels, the project has been both fun and frustrating," says Green-Rogers, a regular guest dramaturg at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Slover calls the story "strange, but weirdly satisfying." He compares the story to eating kale, he says, once you finally figure out a satisfying way to prepare it.
A contemporary take on 'Kinsmen'
University of Utah produces a rare production of the "contemporary translation" of the overlooked Shakespearean play "The Two Noble Kinsmen," a tale of military honor and dark comedy. The show is directed by Randy Reyes, from a script adaptation by playwright Tim Slover and dramaturg Martine Kei Green-Rogers, both University of Utah theater professors. The work is part of Oregon Shakespeare Festival's national Play on! project.
When • April 7-9 and 13-15, 7:30 p.m.; also 2 p.m. Saturday, April 15
Where • Babcock Theatre, downstairs at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $18; $15 U. faculty, staff, seniors, military; U. students free with U. arts pass; $8.50 for other students; available at the door or tickets.utah.edu (search for "The Two Noble Kinsmen")