Review of The Taming of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Steven David Martin

For tickets / schedule :
www.raventheater.org
Bear Republic Courtyard
Healdsburg, CA
Raven Players

RUN: August 11-27, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(August 19, 2016)

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The Taming of the Shrew is a disturbing comedy to modern audiences, presenting a formidable directing challenge. In a world where women speaking their minds are considered shrewish and should be starved and abused to gain their docile obedience, how can the play be remotely amusing? Director Steven David Martin has an alternate perspective that Kate is hounded by a conniving younger sister, and acts out, using her final speech as a take down of Bianca, rather than truly meaning what she says. For the most part it works, augmented with gender defying casting choices and characters, but the underlying theme of the play cannot be entirely overwritten. Its setting is the 1950s, a time of repression and domestic expectations for women—an apt era for the play, and the flavor is so Italian you can taste pesto and ciabatta in the air.

Rather than depending on elaborate sets, Bear Republic’s intimate outdoor courtyard becomes the backdrop, surrounded by trees in resplendent bloom scattering bright petals, as the audience is serenaded by Steve Albini’s light accordion melodies. His accompaniment continues throughout the play, including a recurring theme for Bianca until Kate scolds him into silence.

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Petruchio (Bill Garcia) and Katharina (Julie Schuldt) are well matched in a passionate physical flirtation that is mutually aggressive. His outrageous appearance at the wedding is suitably embarrassing, and despite mercenary motives, Garcia portrays a man smitten with Kate’s raw energy and spirit. His servant, Grumio (Zack Acevedo), is a highlight of the play, strutting with straight-faced eccentricity through scenes of utter chaos. Bianca’s suitors are a notable team of middle aged bachelors with merry hearts, who give in with good-natured grace when they see her fall in love with a youth her own age.

Lucentia (Samantha Haviland) is sweetness itself, but her servant, Tranio (Matt Farrell), shines out of the duo. He transforms from a bumbling companion into Lucentio, the fresh-faced suitor. Their antics to claim Bianca reach legendary proportions, causing hilarity and heartache. Siobhan O’Reilly as Bianca puts on the perfect outer show, hiding a deceitful woman as shrewish as her sister. Rather than being a surprise at the end, her refusal to answer Lucentia’s summons is in character; the shock is to characters who were unaware of her duplicity.

Raven Players have crafted The Taming of the Shrew into a form palatable to a modern audience, filled with slapstick laughs while raising important questions as to gender roles in society and how far we should be willing to go for revenge.