Monday, October 03, 2011

The Taming of the Shrew

Farcical THE TAMING OF THE SHREW entertains at GLTF, but…

Though it is billed as a comedy, Shakespeare’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, a version of which is now on stage at Great Lakes Theatre, is a play of controversy.

To understand the hullabaloo, knowledge of the plot is necessary.

The tale, which is set in Hollywood, California, in this version, finds Lucentio, a rich young man, arriving in the city with his servants, Tranio and Biondello, to attend a local university. Lucentio’s center of attention changes when he sees and instantly falls in love with the beautiful Bianca. As happens in such tales, there are problems. In this case, Bianca already has two suitors and, most importantly, her wealthy father will not let Bianca be courted until her older sister, the ill-tempered Kate, has married. Petruchio, a suitor for Kate comes along, and we are carried into Shakespeare’s tale of how the shrew is “tamed.”

The quote marks around the word “tamed” are not by accident. That word is the center of the script’s ability to inflame strong reaction.

The controversy centers on the play’s ending, when the strong-headed Kate does, or appears to buckle into the will of society, in this case, the will of her husband and declares, “The husband is the lord,” indicating the misogynistic and patriarchal view that women are persons to be controlled by men. This concept, of course, does not sit well with modern women. It reeks of the views of the rulers of such countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran and males who abuse and denigrate women.

While feminists and their followers declare that the play’s ending needs to be dropped, altered, or that Kate’s lines should be coded to indicate that what she is saying is not what she means, others have defended the play by highlighting the play's sentiments are not meant to be taken at face value, that the entire play is, in fact, a farce.

This disagreement places a clear obligation on each production’s director to choose an interpretation of Kate’s final speech, as it is this scene, which in the end defines the meaning of the entire production. The director has at least four choices: (1) Kate's speech is sincere and Petruchio (her husband) has successfully tamed her or she has come to see that they're well-matched in temperament; (2) Kate’s speech is ironic: she is not being sincere in her statements but sarcastic, pretending to have been tamed when in reality she has completely duped or is humoring Petruchio; (3) Kate's speech cannot be taken seriously due to the farcical nature of the play; (4) Kate’s speech both satirizes gender roles and emphasizes the social need for wives to be obedient to their husbands.

In the GLT’s production, there is no satirical verbal or nonverbal hint of tongue in cheek, there is no wink as Sara Bruner (Kate) is stating her speech, there is no overdone farcical aspect to the scene as was present in much of the production. So, does this mean that Young, a woman, opted for option 1? Since she writes no program notes, the viewer has no way of knowing.

As to the rest of the production, Young has pulled out all the shticks to produce a staging that will delight all those who love the Three Stooges, Saturday morning cartoons, and productions that are way bigger than life.

Young has set the production in 1980, with many references to Tinsel Town. There are tourists going on home tours of the stars, mention of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Ralph Loren clothing designs. Slang, rock music, nonverbal gestures and somewhat era correct clothes waft across the stage.

The wedding scenes are each delightful, the elevator thrust stage is used effectively to make set pieces and people appear and disappear before our very eyes, the music is fun, the choreography properly over the top, and the fights are of well staged. The first act is let loose fun; the second stanza seems to run out of steam.

Sara Bruner goes totally overboard as Kate. How she gets through a performance without getting hurt from the flips, rolling on the floor battles, and headlocks, is amazing. She is beyond real, obviously creating a character true to her director’s desires. As such, she is a delight.

Her Petruchio, (Jim Lichtscheidl) a gentleman of Montana, who is used to roping wild things, wrestles and abuses his Kate into submission by withholding food, holding her captive and generally taming her. Unfortunately, he is somewhat inconsistent in his character development.

Reggie Gowland makes for a handsome and realistic love-sick Lucentio. Kjerstine Rose Anderson is adorable as the cheerleader perky Bianca. Neil Brookshire and Danny Henning, as Lucentio’s servants, are delightful.

Michael Locher’s steel-clad set is distracting. The doors don’t always work well as devices of quick exits, the constant changing of pictures and window coverings on the second floor rooms is distracting, and the straight line walls seems to get in the way of the action, rather than helping it.

Capsule judgement: Great Lakes Theatre’s production of TAMING OF THE SHREW will be a delight for those who like their theatre and Shakespeare over the top. It well may infuriate those who champion women as equals of men.