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Bard on the Beach
Vanier Park
May 31-Sept. 23
604-739-0559 or

Saddle up, pardners, and mosey on down to Bard on the Beach for ye olde Shakespearean wild west show, where men are men, women learn to be women, and coyotes howl in the False Creek sunset.

Opening Bard’s 18th season, the always controversial Taming of the Shrew has been re-imagined by director Miles Potter as a Sergio Leone-style spaghetti western.  At the preview I saw, the cast’s comic six-guns were a-blazin’ and the audience, including large posses of hard-to-please high school students, had a great time.

 Potter hasn’t entirely cracked the play’s problems--its lame comic construction and stone-age sexual politics.  But he’s created a crowd-pleaser that will sure as shootin’ fill Bard’s mainstage tent all summer.

The plot centres on the two daughters of wealthy Baptista (Duncan Fraser). Bianca (a delightfully goofy Naomi Wright) is pursued by Gremio (David Marr), Hortensio (Haig Sutherland channeling Barney Fife), and Lucentio (Kyle Rideout). The latter two woo her while pretending to be tutors, for no good reason except as excuses for Shakespeare to practice the art of comic disguise.

But here’s the rub: Baptista won’t allow Bianca to marry until he’s unloaded her older sister, the angry, intimidating, shrewish Kate (Colleen Wheeler), in whose presence strong men flinch. Cue the cavalry.

Over the rise, accompanied by Marc Desormeaux’s terrific cowboy theme music and a funny Gabby Hayes-ish sidekick (Derek Metz), struts handsome, rugged, squint-eyed, cold-blooded Petruchio (Bob Frazer), looking like the second coming of Clint Eastwood.

Petruchio becomes fixated on the challenge of breaking this bronco, turning wild, unruly, independent Kate into “a Kate conformable,” an obedient Stepford wife. And so he does, wearing down her resistance through physical intimidation and psychological warfare.

Wheeler is a big woman and a wonderful actress.  Her tough Kate is no pushover.  But Shakespeare stacks the deck against her. Despite maintaining an attitude of muscular irony at the end, she is surely tamed. And though Frazer’s comic gifts and natural charm take some of the edge off Petruchio, the way he bullies her into submission still feels pretty creepy.

The wooing of Bianca, not one of Shakespeare’s most sparkling sub-plots, starts to become as repetitious as the breaking of Kate’s spirit in the second act. But the laughs keep coming thanks to Michael Scholar, Jr., whose frito bandito precision as Lucentio’s servant is the show’s comic highlight, and Bard artistic director Christopher Gaze, who paints with his usual broad strokes a very funny cameo character pretending to be Lucentio’s father.

Costumer Mara Gottler’s mighty handsome western garb provides the finish to this first-rate treatment of a second-rate Shakespeare.

Jerry Wasserman