Thursday, October 22, 2009

Taming of the Shrew

There may be gender disagreements about whether William Shakespeare’s most controversial play, “The Taming of the Shrew” is a comedy or a tragedy. Speaking for the feminine side, I tend to favor the latter option!

In this mysogenistic look at the battle of the sexes, one woman is sold off by her father to the highest bidder while her sister is forced into a troubled marriage where her husband deprives her of food and drink in order to break her spirit. There are plenty of lines on women knowing their place. Kate’s long, final speech protesting obedience to her husband is a notorious example.

Productions of this play often set the action in times other than Elizabethan and may twist plot elements so that in the end Katherine has the upper hand and we see that all of her subservience is her own way of manipulating her husband.

In the Woodland Opera House production, director Rodger McDonald has taken a more traditional approach, setting the play back in Elizabethan times (though a brief sequence at the beginning shows a company of actors preparing for the start of the play, which lets us know that the time is really today and the actors are actually doing a play, which may soften the ultimate conclusion)

It’s a sumptuous looking show, with cleverly designed sets, which turned and rotated to represent several different locations, designed by the multi-talented Jeff Kean (who also happens to play role of Petrucchio).

Laurie Everly-Klassen, the “Designing Haberdasher,” has created a beautiful assortment of period costumes.

Bevin Bell-Hall, in her Opera House debut gives a wonderful performance as Katherine. She has a fiery temper and a lot of physical stuff to, which she does beautifully.

Kean’s Petrucchio stands up to Kate with a steel resolve and detached emotions. He sets out to woo her, marry her and then tame her. He cares nothing for the warnings about her disposition. All he wants is the large dowery that accompanies the marriage. There were probably a lot of women in the audience who wanted to kick him in the shins, which only proves the effectiveness of his characterization.

Jeff Nauer is Kate’s domineering father, Baptista, who refuses to allow his youngest daughter, the blonde, flirtatious Bianca (Analise Langford-Clark) to marry until a groom is found for her bad-tempered older sister. Langford-Clark plays the sweet little lady role to the hilt, flirting with her many suitors and giving a hint to a spark within her too, though much more deeply hidden than it is in Kate.

The young rich Lucentio (Brent Randolph) finds himself smitten with Bianca. He trades places with his servant, Tranio (Dan Sattel), and disguises himself as a poor teacher to gain an excuse to be in Bianca’s company, while Tranio, posing as Lucentio attempts to convince Baptista to let him marry his younger daughter. Randolph is a tall, gentle Lucentio, who swoons in the company of Bianca and easily wins her love.

Sattel is outstanding as Tranio, full of energy and a focal point whenever he was on stage.

As Bianca’s older would-be suitors, Steve Mackay as Hortensio and David Buse as Gremio are wonderfully silly, though Buse seems a bit over the top at times.

Bobby Grainger as Petruchio’s manservant Grumio is an outstanding physical comedian, very funny and, with Sattel, give some of the best second banana performances in this production.

Others in the cast include Shanna Lyn Dickerson as the widow who ultimately marries Gremio, Genevieve Whitman as “Biondella” (a female version of the traditional Biondello, manservant to Lucentio), Michael Smuda as Vincentio, Andy Hyun as Curtis, Philip Pittman as Tailor, and Dan Beard as Pendant.

If you can set aside the obvious problems with Shakespeare’s thinking about the relationships between men and women, this is a fun production, though husbands will be well advised that it’s best not to try Petrucchio’s game plan at home!

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