The Taming of the Shrew

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Pug Bujeaud
Producer: TAO – Theater Artist Olympia
Dates: June 29 – July 15, 2007

‘Shrew’ gets fresh, bawdy spin
ALEC CLAYTON – Tacoma News Tribune
Published: Jul 06, 2007

Pictured: Heather McMahon as Kate and Chris Cantrell as Petruchio. Photo by Michael Christopher

Pictured: Heather McMahon as Kate and Chris Cantrell as Petruchio. Photo by Michael Christopher

“The Taming of the Shrew” is one of William Shakespeare’s most reviled plays – hated by many for what is considered to be a misogynistic theme. Depending on which version is chosen and how the director chooses to present it, “Shrew” generally carries the message that women are the property of men and should be docile and obedient.

But Theater Artists Olympia has never shied away from controversy. This is the same company that last summer presented Shakespeare’s other often-loathed play, “The Merchant of Venice” – a play that is generally accused of being anti-Semitic.

Director Pug Bujeaud tackles the feminist issues head-on, stating in her director’s notes: “I have seen productions of this show that have ended Kate’s final and often vilified speech with a great big wink to the audience. I feel strongly that is a cop-out. … She is not simply speaking about a wife’s duty to her husband so much as what honor and duty is owed to a relationship to keep love thriving, regardless of sex.”

TAO’s version of the play takes place in Hades. Kate is stuck in hell. Her father is the devil, and her sister, Bianca, is a bawdy blonde. Petruchio and his servant Grumio are pirates; Lucentio, one of Bianca’s many suitors, wears a Superman costume; Biondello, a servant (usually played by a boy but played here by Christina Collins), is a clown; and Hades is sexualized to comic extremes by pole dancers and dominatrixes.

The plot is ludicrous even for Shakespeare. Three men are competing for the hand in marriage of Bianca, but Bianca’s father says that no one can marry her until after he marries off his older daughter, Kate, a spiteful shrew no man is willing to marry – no man, that is, until the egotistical and blustery Petruchio comes along. He is willing to marry her for her substantial dowry, no matter how spiteful she may be. Besides, he is confident that he can tame the shrew.

In an absurd subplot that only the master of mistaken identity could cook up, Lucentio pretends to be Bianca’s classics instructor and Hortensio, another suitor, pretends to be her music instructor – both in attempts to woo her.

This production is earsplitting. Everybody shouts. The physical comedy is extreme. The fight scenes are intense if not downright dangerous, and it is as bawdy as any play I’ve seen lately.

The cast is practically a who’s who of South Sound theater.

Chris Cantrell is perfectly cast as Petruchio. He is big and boisterous and has a commanding presence on stage.

Michael Christopher brings to the role of Grumio a devilish quality reminiscent of Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Christopher and Cantrell take physical comedy to the extreme in an early sword-fight scene in which they go out into the audience and fight over the heads of audience members. And a brief but deliciously funny love scene between Grumio and the dominatrix Curtis (played by Heather Christopher) pushes the limits of good taste.

Scott C. Brown is terrific as Hortensio, as he seamlessly slips in and out of a variety of personas. (I did, however, have difficulty understanding him when he put on a Scottish brogue.) Tim Goebel as Lucentio and Robert McConkey as Tranio are also good.

But the real scene-stealer every time she is on stage is Ingrid Pharris as Bianca. She acts incredibly dumb with a constant look of wide-eyed, drop-jawed incredulity, which she combines with raw sexuality – qualities inferred by gesture and expression that are diametrically opposed to Bianca’s sweet and compliant demeanor.

This is not one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, but this performance puts a fresh spin on it that is highly entertaining.

It is not recommended for children, and it is a little long at 21/2 hours, which includes a 15-minute intermission.

Shrew for you – Theater Artists Olympia goes to hell to stage a play
Published: Jul 05, 2007

Theater Artists Olympia takes pride in being the quirky theater that even the liberal, artsy folks of the state capital would consider a bit out there. It can talk the talk because it certainly walks the walk, staging shows — and its own revisions of works — that carry TAO’s own brand of theater.

For starters, TAO staged “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” and “Cannibal the Musical” last year. So, it seems fitting that the theater would take a whack at arguably the bawdiest work William Shakespeare ever wrote. While other theaters stage Shakespearian plays because they are not only known works but also copyright free, which translates into bankable shows, TAO aims celebrate the poetic language of the Bard as well as point out that Shakespeare was a dirty bird when it came to bawdy jokes.

“Shakespeare wrote for the masses,” says TAO troupe member and show director Pug Bujeaud.

TAO’s staging of “The Taming of the Shrew” tells the story of Katherina Minola, who has a problem. She lives in Hades, and her dad is the devil. Her family life is what could best be described as unsatisfying. In true royal style, her father decrees that before her sister can marry Kate must have a ring around her finger. And there aren’t a lot of offers to be the man to put it there. Then comes Petruchio, a man who is always up for a good challenge. And this broad meets his match.

Theaters often shy away from staging the show because critics have called it anti-woman, but TAO hits that topic head-on and has a bit of fun with it — much like it does for the whole show. The play is full of clowns, devils, pirates, and fallen angels. There are pole dancers and sword fights, one-liners and double entendres.

“We just decided to run with it,” Bujeaud says. “It’s us after all. It was almost thrown down as a challenge.”

The staging of the show in Hades, a suburban town just outside of hell for the folks who don’t remember their mythology, allows the theater to play with time and space. The show has zoot suits and Victorian dresses, and the centuries between them don’t seem to matter. The theater tossed around the idea of having Elvis in the role of the preacher, but that idea fell by the wayside.

“There was a lot of playing around with it,” Bujeaud says. “But we eventually said bye-bye to that idea.”

One idea that morphed into something that stayed was a shift from Vikings to pirates. TAO originally thought about Vikings but thought that swashbuckling pirates seemed more universal.

Published on February 25, 2009 at 7:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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