Reviewed by James Karas
Give this Taming of the Shrew a standing ovation.
The Taming of the Shrew, as its title suggests, involves the humiliation, degradation and abuse of a woman until she is debased to the point of calling her husband her lord, her king and her governor. She is prepared to place her hand under his boot in token of her obedience. That should make even the most dedicated male chauvinist pig cringe.
Ben Carlson as Petruchio and Deborah Hay as Katherina with members of the company. Photography by David Hou.
Director Chris Abraham has achieved the almost impossible. He manages to turn the taming of the shrew Katherine (an outstanding Deborah Hay) into the taming of her asshole husband Petruchio (Ben Carlson).
First, the funny part. Abraham turns the not-particularly amusing Induction involving the joke played on the drunken Christopher Sly into something hilarious. As the lights go down in the theatre, we see a rack of costumes on stage and some actors address the audience. An obnoxious patron appears in a corner aisle of the auditorium and becomes abusive to the ushers. He is a blogger from Kitchener and becomes so obnoxious that he is knocked down on the stage as the audience roars with laughter.
The play starts and we realize that unmannerly patron is in fact Sly (Ben Carlson) who will be treated like a lord and a play will be put on for him. A brilliant move by Abraham and that’s just the beginning.
How does one deal with the abuse and humiliation that Petruchio heaps on Katherine in order to bring her to the point where she will agree to anything he says? Abraham gives us a strong Katherine (in an excellent performance by Hay) who knows her own strength. She puts up with his shenanigans because she knows she is right and she will eventually get her way while letting her husband think he rules the roost.
Carlson’s Petruchio manages to appear more abusive than he really is. He clearly wants the cursed, ill-tempered and abusive toward everyone Katherine “tamed” but somehow there seems to be no out and out cruelty in what he does. That is superior acting and directing. By the end of the production all is dispelled by love.
This Katherine endures but never succumbs. When she says that a woman should kneel for peace and that she is bound to serve, love and obey her husband, she speaks with the strength and knowledge of a woman who knows how to control her situation.
The real solution is love. When Petruchio near the end of the play, tells her “kiss me. Kate” the two embrace is a passionate kiss that dispels everything that happened before. This is love and passion between a couple. Petruchio sums up the situation by saying that he and Kate are truly married while Hortensio (Mike Shara) who got the Widow (Sarah Orenstein) and Lucentio who married Bianca (Sara Afful) are done for.
The rest is boisterous comedy; inventive, imaginative and simply delightful. Abraham never misses an opportunity for rough housing and physical comedy. Much of the comedy depends on the activities of the servants. Tom Rooney as Tranio, Gordon S. Miller as Biondello, Brian Tree as Grumio and Petruchio’s half dozen servants are put to excellent laughter-producing use by Abraham.
Peter Hutt does excellent work as Baptista and Michael Spencer-Davis is hilarious as the rich old fool Gremio.
Stand up and clap for a wonderful night at the theatre.