The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Geoffrey Kent and Denna Gibson
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

Wow – a Shakespeare comedy that actually stops the show with laughter! True, this “Taming of the Shrew” has been moved from Padua, Italy to Padua, Arizona Territory but Helsinger replaces the Italianate Kate (Gibson) with Calamity Jane, she chase away suitors with a bull whip and drinks shots of Buzz brand whiskey. The rest of the plot is largely as you recall – Kate has serious anger issues while her younger sister Bianca (Melissa Masson) is the flirty cute one who bats off the boys. Her dad Baptista (John Ahlin) shrewdly demands Kate get married first, and that stumps Gremio (Brandon Roberts) and Hortensio (Chris Metz). The serious contender for Bianca is new comer Lucentio (Chris Ryan); he’s dressed in a plaid suit that could drop a Scotsman at 15 paces. He swaps identities with his servant Tranio (Jim Ireland) to woo her for reasons that I forgot by the end of the scene. Now Petruchio (Kent) shows up with his sidekick Grumio (Brad DePlanche), he’s looking for a rich wife and Kate’s premium dowry suits him fine. How will he deal with Kate? No problem, this guy’s has either worked interrogation camps or fast food management.

What’s not to love? Kent is a sexier Clint Eastwood type with a sparkle in his eye and a no-nonsense approach to women. When he fights the battle of the innermost cave with Kate they both succeed in breaking up on stage to everyone’s delight. Kate seems to be set on “11” for most of her performance and she snaps a bull whip and has no qualms of aiming it at inoffensive Brandon Roberts. Ryan’s equally as devious but takes a more classic approach to romance, he woos Bianca with Greek and Latin and an easy grading curve. The supporting cast is comedically strong, DePlanche has enough dirt on his face to pant potatoes and Ron Schneider appears as the confused and bombastic father of Lucentio, he gets arrested and belittled and has to pay for the big wedding at the end, and he didn’t even have a daughter. And don’t forget the slick Jim Ireland, he has a wonderful spasm scene yet feels like the calm center of this raucous comedy.

Purists rarely liken the relocation of Shakespeare into more modern settings and I’ve certainly seen a few clunks over the years. But this relocation works better than any other I’ve seen; it’s the cast and direction and exceptionally skilled performers. The tumble weeds and camp fire and on stage sharp shooting are cute but non-essential. The other strength of this production is the relation between Petruchio and Kate, it’s not as blatantly misogynist as originally written, here it’s more like Petruchio stages an intervention and gets Kate to calm down, smell the dessert sage and not be so PO’s 24/7. It’s not that he subdues her but rather resents her outlook and makes her happier with herself. But she’s still got that bull whip, just in case trouble arises.

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