Battle of wordplay in SCS’s second offering
The Taming of the Shrew is a brilliant comedy of errors, squarely set 400 years—and many social lightyears—from our own.
Women existed under the guardianship of their husbands and fathers, and could own property or acquire wealth only if they were widows. The cliché has it that 21st century audiences will have trouble enjoying a play in which a swaggering fortune hunter seeks to wed for money and tries to break his bride’s will in the bargain. Director Robynn Rodriguez takes this tale of two sisters and their uproarious courtships, full of “piercing eloquence” and “scornful glances,” shakes it up and turns it on its head. Just exactly who tames whom will emerge after this fiery cast is finished.
A tale of high-spirited individuals, incensed to find themselves attracted to each other, the play soars on the wildly willful Katarina (Kelly Rogers) matched by the bravado of Petruccio (M.L. Roberts). But they have a stage full of help. And in the case of Shrew, each person save for the sisters’ long-suffering father Baptista (a commanding Derrick Lee Weeden) morphs into whatever serves their purpose. Bravo to the saucy Sophia Metcalf as servant-turned-master Tranio. A scene-stealer in SCS’s The Book of Will, David Kelly is here a jabbering delight as the suitor of sweet sister Bianca (Yael Jeshion-Nelson). And any stage as yet unconquered by the comedic genius of Patty Gallagher (Grumio), probably doesn’t exist. She ignites the entire company, all of whom are elegantly clothed by Pamela Rodriguez-Montero.
The “shrew” of the title, Katarina is the unmarried elder daughter of a wealthy Paduan and “renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue.” The younger daughter Bianca, “sacred and sweet,” has many suitors.
Despairing that his ill-tempered elder daughter will remain a spinster, their father decrees that Bianca may not marry until her unpleasant sister is wed first. Enter Petruccio, who announces to all that he’s “come to wive it wealthily in Padua.” He doesn’t much care who he marries—even Padua’s most famous harridan—as long as she’s rich.
Humans are not cookie-cutter clones and rarely has cross-gender, cross-racial casting been so effective. Especially in helping make sense of the play’s crucial identity changes. Without spoiling the pungent affect (and effect) of the ending, let’s just say that Rodriguez and her cast succeed in spicing up the play’s words, deeds and stereotypes.
Showing us an independent woman transformed into submission by her husband—a husband she loves—Rodriguez/Shakespeare holds a mirror to our own discomfort that a proud creature has been forced into docility by social convention. Yes, we are uncomfortable with forced conformity. Or is Katarina only playing that part too? Is he? The words might be misogynous, but watch the eyes, faces and bodies of the players. Therein lies a tale.
Most theatrical companies clad in self-congratulatory wokeness avoid The Taming of the Shrew altogether. Yet to ignore what’s difficult is to avoid the conversations that are the life’s blood of great art. If it’s coziness you’re looking for, there are reruns of Perry Mason. If you want to be stimulated by hilarious characters, intricate wordplay, ingenious discoveries and yes, made uneasy by the conventions (and differences) of another era, then don’t miss SCS’s robust and smartly-acted production of Taming of the Shrew.
A shout-out to matinee audiences: many who are devoted to at-home video streaming seem to think it’s okay to eat, drink and talk loudly and rudely during daytime performances. No, it isn’t. The performance Grove is not your living room. The outdoor setting does not give you permission to disregard those around you. And to those uncomfortable with the very idea of The Taming of the Shrew I have two words: don’t go.
Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, directed by Robynn Rodriguez. In the Audrey Stanley Grove at DeLaveaga Park.shakespearesantacruz.org