— Lois Anderson & John Murphy. Photo: David Cooper
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
"What was Shakespeare thinking?" my wife asked incredulously, as we left Bard on the Beach's The Taming of the Shrew. My guess is he was thinking what most 16th century Englishmen would have thought: a man must have mastery in his marriage. After all, look what happens in Bard's other mainstage show, Macbeth, when a wife tells her husband what to do.
The play's misogynist theme is still a hard sell for a 21st century audience. Director Meg Roe solves much of the problem by casting utterly charming actors, Lois Anderson and John Murphy, as shrewish Kate and her tamer, Petruchio, and by finding opportunities for witty non-sexist comedy at every turn. But even this delightful production leaves a strange, bitter taste.
Wildcat Kate is known as "Katherine the cursed" in Padua, where suitors galore court her saccharine younger sister, Bianca (Dawn Petten), and steer as clear of growling, barking Kate as possible. Rich, put-upon Dad (charming Bernard Cuffling) won't let Bianca marry until Kate is taken--but who will have her? Enter Petruchio, on a mission to marry for money. He's happy to take on the challenge of taming the shrew.
Anderson and Murphy make a brilliant comic match. Her Kate is initially as powerfully anarchic, violent and quick-witted as his Petruchio is stubbornly confident, strong and masterful. Struck by Kate's beauty, Petruchio appears to genuinely fall for her. He eventually outwits her and by the end they seem a love-match. But in their first terrific confrontation he subdues her by sheer physical strength. And throughout the second act he essentially tortures her, denying her food and sleep in order to break her will. Although maintaining an ironic smile and knowing look, the Kate who urges her fellow brides to be obedient to their masters in the end seems like a victim of brainwashing.
Director Roe provides many clever distractions, including a running dumb-show gag between scenes. Kayvon Kelly is hilarious as Petruchio's servant Grumio, then surprises by playing and singing a gorgeous Italian love song. Kevin Kruchkywich gets some good laughs disguised as a teacher to court Bianca. The depth of talent in even the smallest roles, notably Colleen Wheeler as a silent, po-faced servant, illustrates the strength of Bard's ensemble.
Mara Gottler’s colourful commedia-style costumes provide the visual wow-factor. But in the end the real “wow!” is Kate’s vow to “serve, love and obey” her charming, monstrously misogynist master.