Until Sun, Jul 27 (8 pm;
weekend matinees 2 pm)
Directed by Marianne Copithorne
Myer Horowitz Theatre,
$20 – $30
There’s just no escaping the rampant misogyny in The Taming of the Shrew—but what looks pretty dire on paper can translate in surprising ways on stage.
The Freewill Shakespeare Festival has chosen one of The Bard’s trickier comedies as the sole entry this year: the festival had to cut the usual comedy-tragedy duo in half and move the venue indoors due to a mishap with the Hawrelak Park amphitheatre. But while audiences might miss the park atmosphere (or not—there’s certainly something to be said for enjoying theatre bug-free), the Freewill Players do their best to distract you from the venue change by pointing it out directly at the start of the show.
It’s quite a funny opening: we watch the cast beak off at each other as they prep for rehearsal, only to discover that the Hawrelak Amphitheatre tarp has been wrecked and so they must move the show.
The tone shifts quickly as Katherine (Mary Hulbert) delivers a lovely, mournful song to start, a prelude of the serious issues that are at stake beneath this comedy’s silly antics. Freewill has delivered a very contemporary Padua, with citizens who arrive on Vespas (driven through the crowd first, of course), wear Gucci hats, pose for selfies and drink Red Bull. It’s precisely the contemporary setting that makes this play a difficult one to swallow, however, as the play’s sexual politics are squeamish, if not outright offensive, in the 21st century.
Hulbert plays a combative, overly aggressive—sometimes downright hostile—Katherine, giving good reason for her character’s notorious reputation. As Katherine’s unwanted suitor Petruchio, James MacDonald matches her swagger stride for stride—their antagonistic, almost violent initial meeting is a tempest unto itself. Freewill has done its best in trying to make this play relevant in the current age, and they do succeed at times—our main pair show glimmers of attraction to one another, which serve, I guess, as the sole foundation for their relationship—but there’s just no getting around the fact that this is a man’s world, and women have little agency of their own.
Still, there are some excellent moments of comedy: watching Hortensio (Nathan Cuckow) teach Bianca (Bobbi Goddard) how to rap is a riot, while Petruchio’s arrival at his wedding—straight from his bachelor party and in drag—is so ridiculous that his subsequent kidnapping of Katherine is not so much sinister as silly.
Whether Petruchio’s motivation is really because he sees a kindred spirit in Katherine, or whether he’s simply too bullish and stubborn to back down from a challenge, is as up for debate, as it was when the play was first performed four centuries ago. Ultimately, the sexes just don’t come off on equal footing—I kept waiting/hoping for Kate to wink at Petruchio in her final monologue, as satire seems the only thing that could redeem its disturbing implications. But Freewill has opted for the earnest route, and so, despite its moments of hilarity, this production still leaves one a bit squirmy.