Theatre review: The Taming of the Shrew has the potential to be a summertime treat

While Vancouver’s unseasonably cold “Junuary” weather sucked some of the heat from act two of Bard on the Beach’s Taming of the Shrew, there was enough lingering warmth from the laughter in the first half to carry us through this silly romp.

Last year Bard on the Beach tackled the anti-Semitic The Merchant of Venice without apology, and this year they are as equally as unapologetic as they present the misogynistic world of Elizabethan England in Taming of the Shrew.

In an age sometimes gone mad in pointing out the minutiae of political correctness, Shakespeare’s Shrew is about as incorrect as you can get.  In the version currently on the main stage of this year’s Bard on the Beach Festival however, director Meg Roe and her capable cast never take themselves or the story seriously enough for it to become weighted down by that incorrectness.

Forgoing Shakespeare’s original framing device, director Meg Roe plunges us headlong into the story of the unusual courtship of Petruchio and the shrew Kate.  John Murphy and Lois Anderson are wonderfully balanced as this unlikely pairing, managing to give their characters more depth than one might think possible.

But while Murphy and Anderson are strong, it is in some of the secondary characters that truly brought Shakespeare’s comedy to life, helping us to leave behind thoughts of how inappropriate, in today’s terms at least, this story really is.

Colleen Wheeler once again proves herself one of our city’s finest commanding the stage in every appearance, all without uttering a single word; boy can she ring a mean bell.  Dawn Petten’s transformation from a coquettish to a ball-busting Bianca was an amusing surprise and Ian Butcher killed it as the tailor whose creations intended for Kate are all but destroyed by Petruchio.  It was also a delight to see Bernard Cuffling back on stage in a strong performance as the father and while Shawn Macdonald is once again cast as an elderly man, it was refreshing to see him in an expanded Bard role.  But it was Kayvon Kelly’s night to shine with a strong physical comedic performance as Petruchio’s sidekick Grumio, who lit the stage on fire with each appearance.

John Murphy, Lois Anderson and Kayvon Kelly in the Bard on the Beach production of The Taming of the Shrew.  Photo by David Blue.
John Murphy, Lois Anderson and Kayvon Kelly in the Bard on the Beach production of The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by David Blue.

Set designer Kevin McAllister has resolved last year’s issue of the overwhelming blue tarp in the main stage tent with a simple set and from our vantage point this year sound was not a problem as it was in 2011.  Costume designer Mara Gottler effectively brings to life Roe’s vision of a “funny, shiny theatricality” with some delicious, daring and at times unexpected costumes.

While director Roe’s scene changes featuring Susan Coodin in act one are amusing and Kayvon Kelly’s song in act two is indeed beautiful, they do little to propel the story; with a nearly three hour run-time (with intermission) something has to give.

Let’s hope the weather starts to change soon as I can’t help but think this Shrew has the potential of being a summertime treat when actors (and audience) aren’t expending so much of their energy simply keeping warm.  Until that time though be sure to bundle up!

3 1/2 of 5 Stars The Taming of The Shrew

By William Shakespeare.  Directed by Meg Roe.  A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production.  On stage at Vanier Park through September 22, 2012.  Visit http://www.bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.

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