Monday, April 9, 2018

New “Shrew” Is No Shrew At SCR

What does one do with a shrew like Kate of the infamous “Taming of The Shrew”, Kate in Shakespeare’s misogynistic tale of male brutality, outright cruelty (that one wouldn’t force on a dog) and simple stupidity?

It’s a plot that has been a problem since the Bard wrote it in 1592 or there- about. It’s completely wrong on so many levels that it would distract to list them all. Let’s just say that in Shakespeare’s day, it was the prevailing custom to have women completely subservient to men.

Brushing up on our Shakespeare, you’ll remember Kate or Katherine Minola (simply and beautifully played by Susannah Rogers) of Padua is the oldest daughter of the stingy and manipulating Baptista Minola (Martin Kildare). She is a strong willed, incorrigible independent, ill tempered, sharp tongued insulting woman and that’s for starters. She scares off and looks down any man claiming her hand in marriage.
Brett Ryback and Sierra Jolene (Debora Robinson SCR)
Her younger sister Bianca (Sierra Jolene looking much like a deer in headlights with a big smile) cannot marry until the older Kate is off their father’s hands. This angers Kate as much as it alienates her from her family causing a vicious cycle with every Tom, Dick and Harry in Padua having an opinion.

The three of them are in a bind especially when opportunities for both sisters collide. Petruchio (a handsome and virile looking Elijah Alexander who pretty much has his hands tied in this production), from Verona has come to Padua to ‘to wive and thrive’ (as best I may).
 Susannah Rogers and Elijah Alexander (Tania Thompson)
Petruchio is a big loud mouthed blowhard up for the challenge to ‘tame’ Katherine at any cost, and in the process to collect the large dowry that comes with her. His mission is to break her; her challenge is to resist.

In his ‘Shrew’ Shakespeare puts her through hell before she completely bows to his wishes, causing the bile to rise in any woman worth her weight in gold, to be repulsed.

 On the other hand, Lucento (Brett Ryback) from Pisa comes to Padua to study but falls head over heels for Bianca at first glance. Same challenge. Both father and suitor must convince Kate to marry and free Bianca to ‘live happily ever after’.   
The Cast of "Shrew" (Debora Robinson/SCR)
Using Shakespeare’s ill plotted story line, playwright Amy Freed (“Restoration Comedy” and  “The Beard of Avon”), no stranger to South Coast Repertory Theatre, uses “Shrew” as the basis for her newly commissioned work to revamp an old idea.

According to notes in the Playbill, Freed’s love of Shakespeare dates back ‘at least 20 years’. In the same article, according to a 2003 survey done by the Royal Shakespeare Company, “Shrew” is the second most popular play in Shakespeare’s cannon even though over the years it has become one of the most controversial.

Taking another look at Will’s “Taming Of the Shrew” in 2014 Freed chose to use her own free adaptation while translating it for a playwrights project.
Elijah Alexander and Susannah Rogers
It was not her intention to write a feminist take. “That would be too simple.” So what then? She instead intellectualizes this Kate, leaving so much of the foreplay between the two protagonists (that I must admit adds so much biting edge) feel more like a friendly dueling match than a low level battle of the sexes.

When we first meet up with Kate, we glimpse her as a woman dressed as a man surveying her surroundings in a small courtyard-garden (Ralph Funicello’s set looking vaguely familiar) commenting with Mistress Slapbottom (Colette Kilroy) on how much drink men can consume and ‘still stand up’. She seems pretty even- tempered as the writer, Kate.
Colette Kilroy and Susannah Rogers
Conversation moves to how bad Shakespeare’s “Shrew” is and how it must be changed. And we are off and running seemingly with Kate’s side of the story yet still mired in Shakespeare’s characters, the same ending (Aarg!), except the final speech delivered by Kate is one of reconciliation, respect and love for each other. In between however, it’s still pretty classic “Taming of the Shrew” sans much conflict.    

With a cast more than qualified for any Shakespearean comedy or tragedy director/choreographer Art Manke and his large 13 member cast amble along in this over two and one half hour production that reads so much like the original that this reviewer was waiting for someone in the show to take a shoe off and toss it at someone, even at an audience member just to add a little excitement to the pretty dull goings on.

But when Kate tells the other women how to help their mates off with their boots, I had to turn a blind eye to what I wanted to believe was going to be a revealing and stimulating world premiere production of a new eye opening concept of "Shrew" but alas; fool me once, shame on you…
Elijah Alexander and Martin Kildare (SCR)
Clowns Danny Scheie (Grumio) and Biondello (Bhama Roget) proved to elicit a few guffaws throughout but worked very hard and looking great in David Kay Mickelsen’s brightly colored costumes. Period looks were also in fine fashion for the rest of the cast as well. Jaymi Lee Smith’s lighting, Steven Cahill’s compositions and soundscape and fight choreographer Ken Merckx bring a fine finished look to the whole production.

While “Shrew” was somewhat of a disappointment, I’m still a fan and look forward to Ms. Freed’s next adventure. In the meantime "Kiss Me Kate".

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 21st,
Organization: South Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 714-708-5555
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $28.00
Venue: Segerstrom Stage
Photo: Debora Robinson/SCR


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