Ferrys Shrew utilizes several interesting conventions that begin to grab the audience from the moment that they arrive on site most notably, a strolling band of turn-of-the-century buskers who perform a sort of proto-jazz on tuba, accordion, violin, guitar, percussion and voice. This same ensemble introduces act breaks, and other transitions. It wasnt until well into the show, that I realized that some of the musicians in the ensemble had major roles in the play most particularly Paul Braunstein on percussion, and as Grumio Petruchios #1 gumbah. Braunstein (who can be seen regularly on Train 48) is a thorough delight. His deconstruction and re-assembly of the Shakespearean dialogue results in perhaps the most original interpretation of Grumio that I have ever seen. He ingratiated and mesmerized the audience from his first step onstage (which was done, by the way, through the open air/invisible back wall of the theatre). Also delightful is Marion Day playing guitar and a Kates young sister, the beautiful, lithe, spoiled and deadly funny Bianca. Ryan Field is not only the talented violinist of the musical group (channeling Stefan Grapelli), but he also delivers a first-rate performance as Lucentio, Biancas suitor. Field and Day have a wonderful chemistry, and created likeable and fully-fleshed out characters one does wonder about their characters future as a hypothetical married couple however, with them both being such huge mendacitors. Other stand out performances include the quirky, Dennis Leary-esque Christopher Morris as Tranio and the irrepressible and skilled physical comic actor, Dylan Roberts as Biondello. In a hilarious comic turn, Paul Eves plays the character of Pedant (now a Pedant from Munich) with comic gusto. His Hitlerian moustache and Tyrolean gear were sidesplitting.
Although I dont believe that theres any real proof of this, but I would bet that actors in the early Elizabethan Theatre imbued the characteristics of their current socio/political figures on various supporting characters. Actors being what they are, I think that its a given.
Elizabeth Saunders as Katharina has a very difficult job
how do you express Kates ill temper and downright constant bad mood without peaking too early in the play, and alienating the audience with over the top vocal volume and mannerisms. I think that the answer is in the consummate skill of Elizabeth Saunders, and in the subtext of Kate that she must have created for herself. Ms. Saunders plays Kate as someone who has a good and generous nature, but has been worn out and disillusioned by the circumstances of her life, and is in a constant state of sexual and emotional frustration. We dont know anything about Kates mother but I dont think that its a far stretch to imagine that perhaps her mother died when she was very young possibly in childbirth with Bianca. Kate rather than being allowed to be a little girl was parentilized into caring for her sister. Shes brilliant, so she was able to survive it but at the expense of her own jeunesse. A weak and materialistic father has done little to re-affirm any sort of trust in men, and a man would have to be her intellectual equal to satisfy her keen intelligence. I have no way of knowing if any of those elements were so literally in the actress mind but she certainly created a complex character that sparked my imagination, and longed for a happy ending.
Paulino Nunes as Petruchio is a virtual geyser of testosterone. From the moment that he steps onstage (again through the missing 5th wall), it is impossible to take your eyes off of him. He is unintimidated by the language, and therefore gives the most completely unmannered, and naturalistic interpretation of the Shakespearean language in the cast. I believe that his deep, almost inconsolable grief at his fathers death, is one of the key motivations of his character. Petruchio is trying to almost shock himself out of his sadness, by venturing to change his life in the most dramatic way possible marriage. He doesnt need money, but he IS suffering under the heavy weight of loneliness. Petruchios journey is really quite astounding, and the completely believable performance by Nunes lets us see the characters sensitivity and vulnerability. Petruchio understands early on that he is the perfect soul mate for Katharina. He sees her intelligence and her beauty of spirit. At the end of the play, when he kneels down directly across from Kate, and following her line, May it do him ease, he gently places his hand under hers. One of the finest moments that I have seen onstage, and certainly a brilliant directorial decision.
Often, those who try to make Shakespeare accessible to contemporary audiences are vilified by shortsighted critics who cant move past John Gielgud in a pair of non-stretch tights. The works of William Shakespeare are not the Torah, The Dead Sea Scrolls, the Koran or the Book of Kells or any other sanctified religious text they are works of popular entertainment, rife with language and multi-dimensional characters. They are, in fact, Willy the Shakes generous gift to generations of theatregoers a gift to be held in trust.
Current presenters of Shakespeare do have a responsibility to the iambic pentameters, so to speak but perhaps they have an even greater responsibility to perpetuate the work, by using a wide, theatrical pallette that ignites passion and imagination the heady stuff that ensures the seduction of future players who will take to the boards with their own unique interpretations. Director David Ferry and The Shakespeare Works have done just that, and more. For a mere Tooney, students up to age eighteen can see a show, and have a front row seat for inspiration. Bravo!
One of my only criticisms of the production would be the rather anachronistic, half-hearted approach to the costuming and most specifically with regard to the character of Kate in other words, an inexpensive pair of vinyl, calf-length lace-up boots from Payless Shoes, does not a turn-of-the-century period costume make. This may seem petty to some but the devil is in the details, and when you are asking for substantial suspension of dis-belief from an audience by setting it in a specific time, you better damn well present historically correct costumes.
In the opening scene, Kate is seen in an unfortunate magenta skirt with the back zipper protruding, and a foot of red thread (from a distractingly unraveling hem), non chalantly floating by, a foot above the stage floor. The aforementioned sad little skirt was accompanied by an equally offensive partner a whiter-than-white synthetic material non-descript, contemporary blouse. There was a momentary reprieve when I saw the backside of Kates Wedding Dress. However, once the full dress was on view to the audience, it was more World War I, Red Cross Nurse (see Sondra Bullock in Hemingway Film), than up-scale Victorian/Edwardian bride.
In the plays closing scene during which Katharina delivers her most important (and controversial) soliloquy, the long-suffering Elizabeth Saunders was again costumed in a nightmarish ensemble a singularly unflattering gray suit that attempted to conform to the historical requirements of the period, but just didnt. In fact it reminded me of something that the actor Danny DeVito wore in his memorable characterization of The Penguin from the Batman film franchise.
However, the concept of the gender-bending costuming at the end of the play was wonderful but I dont think that it was completely fair for Paulino Nunes as Petruchio to look prettier in his outfit than Elizabeth Saunders as Katharina did in hers. Poor Katharina was at constant risk of her otherwise excellent performance being sabotaged by her horrendous costumes.
The Shakespeare Works and their current production should be commended, supported, attended and talked about. As The Taming of the Shrew came to a close, the talented cast began to sing a beautiful song in Italian (an arrangement of the Italian folk song, Amore), and gradually morphed into a moving tableau that eventually passed out of the plays precious reality, through the 5th wall, and into the surrounding natural beauty of Ashbridges Bay Park. I was left pretty much breathless, and totally satisfied with an evening of magnificent theatre. The entire experience really was to quote the character Lucentio The wished heaven of my bliss.