Review: “The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare. Produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company. Directed by Aimée Bruneau. With Kelly Kitchens, David Quicksall, David S. Hogan, Brian Claudio Smith, Karen Jo Fairbrook, Brenda Joyner. Now through May 12, 2013 at The Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center (former Intiman).
Producing Shakespeare is hard. Modern audiences can be sometimes put off (ie: bored) if theaters set the productions in the appropriate time period (ie: Elizabethan England, frequently) but if companies get fahncy and try to modernize or adapt the setting to different time periods, it can lead to disaster. Sometimes a space age “MacBeth” works and sometimes it doesn’t. Seattle Shakespeare Company has had both good luck, and bad, by tinkering with the setting of their productions…their previous show, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” was wittily and successfully set in Evelyn Waugh’s England circa 1930 or so and was a treat, but their contemporary take on “Henry V” a few seasons back was a bit of a clunker, despite the presence of a very young and very brilliant Jerick “Jinkx Monsoon” Hoffer. It either works, or it doesn’t…it’s easy to be “hoisted up on one’s petard”…whatever that means.
I’m tickled pink as a Virginia ham on Confederate’s Day to report that Seattle Shakes’ current production of “The Taming of the Shrew”, despite being set in a deeply southern trailer park in the Land of Grits and Honey Boo Boo, is a big, fat pecan filled triumph. It’s a restaging of a similar production by Seattle Shakes’ outdoor based summer theater little brother, Wooden O from a few seasons ago, with several actors and director Aimée Bruneau back for the hayride. Shakespeare’s tale of a shrewish young woman whose razor sharp tongue prevents her from being courted but is eventually tamed by the love (and machinations) of a wily man bent on getting both her body and her dowry, neatly transplants itself to the backwoods trailer park setting. “Shrew” has always been criticized for its misogyny; Kate the Shrew’s meek subservience to her beau Petruchio by the end of the play is a bit hard to take for modern audiences, but its Tea Bag Party setting makes it a bit more palatable. (Still, you wish Kate would end the play kicking Petruchio in the nuts, and leaving town to find herself a new life elsewhere.)
“Shrew” is also aided by some terrific design work including Craig Wollam’s witty trailer park set that includes a nifty revolve and enough crap onstage to stock a Big Lots. (One quibble: the grill to the BBQ was suspiciously clean and never used looking…NO ONE has that clean of a BBQ grill except maybe Martha Stewart…) K.D. Schill’s appropriately trashy costumes were probably all sourced from Wal-Mart and look great. Jessica Trundy’s lighting design and Rob Witmer’s sound work both added overall value to this discount superstore of a production.
But, its Ms. Bruneau’s clever direction and the sly, nimble performances of the cast that really seal this deal. Kelly Kitchens was appropriately shrewish in the first 2/3’s of the play and believably docile but still passionate in the final innings. As her foe and lover, David Quicksall was a delightfully roguish Petruchio, equal parts ignorance and bravado and all contained by a trucker hat and a “wife-beater”. The couple make a formidable acting duo, both equally gifted when it comes to the very physical demands of the comedy as well as conveying the subtle, hesitant tenderness of their wooing.
The entire supporting cast shone, with highlights being David S. Hogan’s slightly mentally deficient, karate chopping, sidekick Grumio; Brenda Joyner’s featherbrained “Princess”/Kate’s younger sister, Bianca; Brandon Ryan’s crazed underling/sidekick Biondello; and Karen Jo Fairbrook in the gender changed role of “Mama” Baptista who eerily channels both Mama June from Honey Boo Boo and my Aunt Vivian… The comedy was high as the corn in July, but the actors keep it all within the realm of believable plausibility.
Yes, the ending is awful, with Kate “tamed” by Petruchio, but the rest of this production is a divine hoot ‘n a holler. It’s the perfect production to attend if you’re put off by stuffier takes on the Bard. But, you’ll leave the theater with a hankerin’ for some fried chicken and cheap beer.