TO THINE OWN SELF BE SHREW
What do you get when you cross Carl Perkins, a biker, and Chris Isaak? In David Ivers’ rendition of The Taming of the Shrew, that rockabilly man with a sympathetic sensibility and arm tattoos is none other than Petruchio, the man who comes to Padua to woo, tame and marry that infamous wildcat Kate. Ivers has set Shakespeare’s popular comedy in a 1950s seaside boardwalk amusement park (think Coney Island in Italy), tossing in a Burlesque feel and enough anachronistic devices – Powerpoint, a Segway, modern vernacular – to ensure that we don’t take this 1591 play too seriously. And if you purists simply give in to this rollicking rock ‘n’ roll rendition, any questions you may have regarding the context will be vanquished by this good-time, insanely accessible and colorful laughfest.
Events fly by so quickly that we barely have time to notice that Baptista (Robert Vincent Frank) is supposedly the richest man in this town, yet he operates a sausage stand under a roller coaster. No matter. It’s the splendid characterizations and unusual subtext of this Oregon Shakespeare Festival production that keep us distracted. Baptista has two daughters – the shrew Kate (the dynamic Nell Geisslinger) and the comely Bianca (Royer Bockus in a hysterical turn as a ditzy blonde). Bianca has plenty of suitors, but she’s stuck working for dad until Kate has been wedded, which is tough to swallow in this supposedly lenient atmosphere, but never mind. As soon as we meet Bianca’s suitors Hortensio (Jeremy Peter Johnson), Gremio (David Kelly in shorts and knee-high black socks) and Lucentio (Wayne T. Carr), the bickering, subterfuge and duplicity kick this show into high gear, aided by Ivers’ fast-paced and comical direction.
Especially winning is John Tufts, who plays Lucentio’s servant Tranio. At his master’s behest, Tranio becomes Lucentio and Lucentio becomes a Latin tutor named Cambio so he can get ever closer to Bianca, the girl of his dreams. Tufts plays his master as a preppy Long Island Hamptonite (in Italy..? oh, never mind…), waving around wads of bills in one of the best running gags in the show. Also a standout is Tyrone Wilson as Lucentio’s poppa, Vincentio, who comes into town just as Petruchio is completing his training of his new bride, Kate.
As for that “training,” the reverse psychology that Petruchio uses to de-shrew Kate. No one will argue about his methods – pretending that her severe words are gentle, that no food or clothing is good enough for her – but many see Kate’s transformation into an obedient wife as indecently misogynistic. Ivers manages to make this relevant by giving us hints into Kate’s nature: Her arms are also heavily tattooed and she sees her relationship with Petruchio as a give-and-take, borderline S&M tug-of-war. The final speech where Kate is “ashamed that women are so simple” is never offensive because we are given to understand that Kate is in on the joke. It also helps that Ted Deasy avoids the pitfalls of bravado and patriarchal machismo in his portrayal of Petruchio, offering us a thoughtful rebel who just happens to get turned on by a dominant woman.
Like vacationers at a seaside resort, Ivers wants us to forget our problems and just have fun. And there’s a lot of amusement to be had here. Of all the Shakespeare plays at OSF this year, Shrew is positively the most family-friendly one of all, so I say bring the whole gang. The young ones may get hooked on theater and you won’t have to clean sand out of the car.
The Taming of the Shrew
Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland
scheduled to end on November 3, 2013
for tickets, call 800.219.8161
or visit http://www.osfashland.com