Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Taming of the Shrew (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’ funny, but not for everyone

Great Lakes Theater Festival is in the midst of a rebirth. In fact, their new logo has the word “Shakespeare” superimposed over the word “Theater.” Historically, GLTF was GLSF. Staging their plays at Lakewood High School during summers, the group built a solid reputation. Then, there was the move to Playhouse Square, the attempt to become a big-time player with a Fall/Winter/Spring season.

Now, under the innovative direction of Producing Artistic Director Charles Fee, the company will play Summer and Fall and return to being a resident company. A company which, in the past, produced the likes of Tom Hanks. Two shows will be produced at the same time, alternating nights for a six-week run. The first set of offerings are ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’ and ‘THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED).’’

Another new feature of the Festival’s season is a free, nightly, outdoor event on Euclid Avenue, just outside the Ohio theatre, called “The Queen’s Arrival” that will commence a half-hour before each GLTF performance. It parallels the “Green Show” tradition that has long been a popular part of summer Shakespeare Festivals across the country. It will feature the arrival of a very special guest in a horse-drawn carriage.

When a director decides on his or her philosophy for staging a play, the person’s background comes into play. From watching Great Lakes Theater Festival’s production of ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’ it can be concluded that director Drew Barr has watched a heavy dose of Saturday morning cartoons and is a lover of The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers and slap-stick humor. His staging leaves no prat-fall, no double-take, no pie-in-the-face opportunity unused. There is enough faux hitting, tripping, and mugging to make any 6-year old roll on the floor in hysterical pleasure.

The result of Barr’s take on the Bard? Judging by the opening night audience, you’ll either love it or hate it. In the former group will be those who love to laugh, no matter whether that laughter comes at the expense of the script. In the latter group, will be the “Humph, that’s not the way Shakespeare should be done” crowd.

‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’ is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works. Probably the most compelling reason for the audience’s love of the script is that instead of the Bard’s usual lyrical poetry and delicate humor, ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW’ is filled with coarse vivid puns. Interestingly, because of the language there are experts who strongly believe that Shakespeare was not the play's sole author, or not the author at all.

Another interesting factor about the play is its almost universal dislike by women activists. Though on one level Kate, the lusty main character, has become a model for the strong-willed woman, the fact that she seemingly becomes a coy, subservient woman controlled by her husband, bodes poorly for women as independent beings.

So, what’s the play all about? In Padua, an old Italian town, lives rich Baptista and his two daughters. The younger, Bianca, is an angel. The elder, Katherine, a scourge with a hot temper and a sizzling tongue. Katherine has no suitors, while Bianca has at least two, which poses a problem for their father since he will not allow Bianca to marry unless someone takes Katherine off his hands first. That conundrum becomes the center of the play...who will tame the shrew and finally agree to kiss Kate? Does that phrase sound familiar? Of course. The play was rewritten into the well-know musical comedy “KISS ME KATE.”

GLTF’s cast is excellent. Andrew May, as Kate’s suitor Petruchio, does what May does best...grimace, mumble, futz, strut, over-act...all to the very best effect. Barr’s directing and May’s talents are a match made in heaven. Laura Perrotta’s Katherina is a fine hellion, but fades too quickly into the “nice” Kate. For some strange reason Barr has Scott Plate play the role of Lucentio, who is in love with Bianca, as a twit. He prances, flails, feigns fay. He does it well, but why? How M. A. Taylor gets through the evening without broken bones is a wonder. He is used by everyone as their punching bag. Maybe he is saved by his flack jacket which protects him from the mayhem. Wayne Turney is wonderful as Bianca’s older suitor. Derdriu Ring is fine, but has little chance to shine in the role of Bianca.

Narelle Sisson’s set design is a disaster. The multi-leveled set, featuring a slanted center platform which resembles a railroad car divided into a series of small rooms, and ladders and a platform high above the audience’s heads, is extremely distracting. The actors are constantly climbing ladders and ducking behind surfaces and being hidden from the sight of the audience. But, considering that the director has actors continually slamming doors and falling up and down stairs and tripping on platforms, the design may have been his idea.

Kimn Krumm Sorenson’s costumes add nothing to the production. In fact, in most scenes it looks like the actors were let loose in the company’s costume storage area and told to put on anything they wanted.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you like farce, if you like slap-stick you’ll love GLTF’s ‘THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.’