THEATER REVIEW: “The Taming of the Shrew” @ Great Lakes Theater by Lisa DeBenedictis

Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Through Sun 4/14

In the era of the #metoo movement, Shakespeare’s popular comedy about a sullen, aggressively troublesome daughter who refuses to obey the men in her life could feel like an ancient relic. But in the capable hands of the Great Lakes Theater and director Sara Bruner this production feels as fresh and welcome as a mild spring day intruding into an interminably bitter winter.

Sara Bruner’s presentation is dense with physical comedy and actors who accomplish comedic erudition while staying relatable to an audience of young teens and middle-aged couples optimistically yearning for a heroine of strength and modern feminine relatibility.  Much of this accessibility is due the spirited performance by actress Jessika D. Williams as Kate. Ms. Williams’ performance is grounded and authentic in feminine qualities of fortitude, resilience and ironic diversion.  Her ferocious aggression is never really tamed, but given over to an empathetic inquisitiveness toward her suitor Petruchio, portrayed with lusty wit and physical magnitude by Jonathan Dyrud.  The chemistry and comedic inventiveness between these two actors injects the story with fresh and appealing characters who will immediately connect with a contemporary audience.

The narrative opens with Baptista Minola worn out by his daughters fierce bickering. Bianca is younger, beautiful and has many suitors but Baptista says Bianca’s many admirers must wait until he can get his oldest daughter Kate married and out of the house. The suitors complain that this is impossible because Kate, despite her large dowery, is a total nightmare whom nobody would want to marry.

Lucentio, a visiting student, falls in love with Bianca and devises a plan to win her hand: he dresses up like a tutor named Cambio so he can insinuate himself into Bianca’s house; convincing his servant Tranio to dress up like Lucentio. Maggie Kettering plays the loyal servant who is at ease in disguise while rubbing elbows with Padua’s affluent class. Tranio tutors Lucentio in his pursuit of Bianca.  Hortensio (also a visiting bachelor) becomes entranced by Bianca’s beauty and convinces Petruchio that he needs to marry Kate so Bianca will be available to him. Petruchio, the son of a well-known father from Padua, loves a challenge and a large dowery so he declares himself a masterful shrew-tamer.

Scene stealing performances by Mandie Jenson (Bianca), Steve Pickering as Bianca and Kate’s father (Baptista Minola), and Taha Mandviwala (as Lucentio) keep the fast pace rollicking and the audience chortling.

One of the brightest stars in this production is Leah Piehl, whose costume designs enhance the comedic flair of each character but also add to the opulence of the production set in the luxurious and historic Hanna Theatre.  This production included onstage seating which immersed some patrons into the action of the story with very positive, comedic effect.

[Written by Lisa DeBenedictis]

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