Theatre review: A Taming of the Shrew with a Twist
The Taming of the Shrew
When: To Sept. 21
Where: Vanier Park
Tickets & Info: From $26 at bardonthebeach.org
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival opens its 30th season with one of the most challenging plays in the canon. A comedy from Shakespeare’s early period, when he was not exactly at the height of his powers, The Taming of the Shrew is so offensively misogynist it simply can’t be presented in its original form.
Director Lois Anderson builds her current production on Bard’s popular 2007 Western staging, and she adds significant twists aimed at aligning the play with contemporary sensibilities. Though not entirely logical or satisfying, the result is a funny, colourful, provocative entertainment that burnishes Bard’s feminist credentials, if not Shakespeare’s.
Gnarly old Gremio (Scott Bellis) and young Hortensio (Anton Lipovetsky) are courting pretty, giddy Bianca (Kate Besworth). So is out-of-towner Lucentio (Kamyar Pazandeh), aided by his servant Tranio (Chirag Naik), both in disguise.
But hold yer horses, boys, because wealthy Baptista (Susinn McFarlen) won’t allow Bianca to marry until someone takes older daughter Katherine (Jennifer Lines) off her hands.
Who will have notorious wildcat Kate? The townsfolk call her Katherine the Cursed, intolerable, irksome, a scold and worse. When she appears on stage they laughingly taunt her with chants of “shrew, shrew, shrew.”
Then over the ridge comes cowpoke Petruchio (Andrew McNee) with his sidekick Grumio (Joel Wirkkunen), looking for any wife who can bring him a fat dowry. Hearing about Kate, he sets out to win her, break her and tame her.
In their initial battle of wits and physical strength they seem evenly matched. Besieged on all sides, jealous of Bianca, unloved by her own mother, Kate agrees to marry him. Then gradually, through a humiliating strategy of psychological warfare at times resembling torture, he bends her to his will — or so it is in Shakespeare.
Anderson has rewritten two key scenes to give Kate a modicum of agency and equity, including the appalling ending where Petruchio bets other husbands that his wife will prove the most obedient. In this production (spoiler alert!) he still wins the bet, but Kate gets a stirring speech about freedom and resistance and, literally, the final shot.
Some delightful performances give this show its buoyancy. Besworth’s Bianca flits about, joyously indifferent to all but her suitors’ attentions, in a series of spectacular dresses from costumer Mara Gottler. Lipovetsky’s hapless Hortensio pursues her, then another (Ghazal Azarbad), with increasingly funny results. Naik’s wily comic servant vibrates with goofily energetic self-confidence.
McNee, one of Vancouver’s best comic actors, plays Petruchio with straight-faced restraint and a bedraggled, thoughtful flexibility that renders him more a likable schlub than patriarchal bully. When Petruchio and Kate finally kiss, the audience cheers.
Long one of Bard’s stars, radiant Jennifer Lines infuses Kate with rich dimension. Isolated and unhappy in the first scenes, she projects so much pain in her tight mouth and hunted, haunted eyes. Her transformation through confusion to something like acceptance, then understanding and finally love occurs without any loss of strength. By the end she practically glows.
Cory Sincennes’ saloon and campfire sets are fun, as are Malcolm Dow’s spaghetti western-style music and Gottler’s inimitable costumes, but the 1870s American frontier setting adds little but enjoyable spectacle to Shakespeare’s marital saga.
Still, it’s hard to beat the spectacle of a fine summer night under the big tent at Vanier Park with this company of talented artists.