Wednesday 19 June 2019

Shrew! is satirical sauce on a spaghetti Western motif of fun   
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Bard on the Beach resurrects a 2007 Western Ye-hah! version of one of Shakespeare's most controversial scripts, The Taming of the Shrew. Its goofy mix of cowpokes and Elizabethan English is self-satire all on its own. Then Director Lois Anderson takes a magnifying glass to his characters in a show she happily riddles with slapstick pratfall silliness. 

Here is a redux Plot quicky just to remind readers what it's about : Younger sister Bianca Minola is a hottie and the lust in many suitors' eyes. But older sister Katherine (Kate) is not yet married. So la madre Baptista rules Bianca off-limits until older sis ties the knot first. Enter Petruchio. He has dowry in mind. So he marries the feisty Kate who is what rodeo folk might call "hard twist" : a strong, no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-lip kind of free agent. The rest of the play tracks their marriage. "Mad herself, she's madly mated!" is how one character puts it.

Going "nose-to-nose" is what Petruchio (Andrew McNee) and Kate (Jennifer Lines) are all about in this re-make of the 2007 Miles Potter slapstick spaghetti rendition of Shrew now on show at Bard.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson
Billy Bard’s piece has enjoyed no end of controversy and disparagement. Its title starts it : the very concept of a wife being one who needs “taming” because she is a “shrew” was offensive 125 years back to a wee talent named George Bernard Shaw who huffed : "No man with any decency of feeling can sit [the final act] in the company of a woman without being extremely ashamed," he said, naming the show "altogether disgusting to modern sensibility". A 20-something actress friend said nearly 100% the same words to me just last week. 

Others see it more benignly. Less a paternalistic screed that champions the "rule of thumb" for a beating switch and the old "wife-as-chattel" nonsense. Many consider the Shrew script more like a tongue-in-cheek joust. The kind Earl of Leicester enjoyed with his sassy lover Elizabeth I. But still, while being the friend-with-privileges in HRM's boudoir was playful good fun for Leicester, maybe overall Petruchio had it more better and less worse...?

Director Lois Anderson played Kate in the 2012 Bard version. So she knew what she was about in snatching the ever-effervescent Jennifer Lines to wrassle with the subtle deadpan of a Petruchio as delivered by Andrew McNee. Together they make whoopee more like Dunaway & Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde than the stylized waspish stings of Taylor & Burton in dearly-departed Frederico Zeffirelli’s 1967 Shrew.

Anderson plays with words ironically and joyfully : the cast points at Kate and yells out “Shrew! Shrew! Shrew!” at her with each sighting. And the variant “shrewd” is thrown in repeatedly as a staccato alt-term for Kate, too. Which of course she is as well : Petruchio only lasso’s her with a slip-knot in his rope. It is she who finally tackles & calf-ropes him by rodeo’s end. Or, more charitably, the two find that love can ultimately grip each of them. By the halter. Even as they constantly hustle to outmuscle one another in both word and deed.

Plenty of good cheer from the ensemble when it's time to hoist the Jack Daniels #7 to celebrate the consummation of Kate's corralling Petruchio in what promises to be a mad, long marriage.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

Too large a cast to fairly single out performances, suffice to say both the familiar and not-so-familiar names below all were selected for the discrete talents they bring to their roles. Sort of like the Raptors basketball team -- a variety of skills in a whole-team effort oh-so-capably blended and maximized by Ms. Anderson and each of her support crew. 

Costumes by veteran Maria Gottler were choice : even in the top row I could smell both the Pinaud Clubman drift from the townspeople's fancy dress -plus- the mud-&-cowdung in Petruchio and Kate's horsey plains-drifter get-ups. 

Cory Sincenne's set worked in its variants as saloon scene and snooty parlour sequences, but maybe best in the campsite canvas and clothesline sketchy earthiness of the post-nuptial suite -- all dirt-&-stink-&-funk. Take a reception completely bereft of food and party favours or riotous raucous drunken debauchery. Ya-hoo! ain't this a grand and delirious memory to write home to la madre about, y'all?

No question, Billy Bard aficionados will find much to amuse and delight in this kick-off 30th year BotB celebratory show that continues to mock sensibility. Pure entertainment ever-so ebulliently delivered, it makes one laugh despite all of today's tut-tut finger-wags against its core 16th Century story-line.  

Particulars : Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Artistic Director Christopher Gaze. At the BMO main stage, Vanier Park. Schedule & ticket information @ bardonthebeach.orgRun-time 120-ish minutes with intermission. 

Cast of Characters :
Gazal Aarbad (Various one-down women). Scott Bellis (Gremio).  Kate Besworth (Bianca Minola). Andrew Cownden (Train conductor; pedant).  Victor Dolhai (Sheriff/Phillip).  Austin Eckhert (Cowboy; Pony Express rider).  Charlie Gallant (Cowboy; Bartender et al).  Ming Hudson (Biondella).  Jennifer Lines (Katherine [Kate] Minola).  Anton Lipovetsky (Hortensio; 'Lidio').  Susinn McFarlen (Le madre Baptista Minola).  Andrew McNee (Petruchio).  Paul Moniz de Sa (Mayor; Piano Player &c.).  Chirag Naik (Tranio; 'Vincentio').  Kamyar Pazendeh (Lucentio; 'Cambio'). Jason Sakaki (Priest; Cowboy etc.).  Joel Wirkkunen (Grumio).

Creative Production Crew :
Costume Designer Maria Gottler.  Set Designer Cory Sincennes.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Original Compositions (2007) Marc Desormeaux.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director / Choreographer Jonathan Hawley Purvis.  Production Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay.  Assistant Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill.  Apprentice Stage Manager Heather Barr.  Directing Apprentice Tai Amy Grauman.  Assistant Costume Designer Alaia Hamer.  Assistant Lighting Designer Celeste English.  Assistant Set Desginer Kimira BhikumN.B. from the program : "This production is inspired by Miles Potter's 2007 Shrew."


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