Shakespeare gets modern at High Park
If the Canadian Stage adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew was also to update its title to reflect the superficial nature of their cheeky, modern characters, the play might well be called The Taming of the Bitch. The characters that inhabit the production are primarily a tacky, upper-class sort, obsessed with iPhones, Starbucks, and ridiculing the hardened Kate.
Director Ted Witzel is successful at sketching out a playful pop kingdom from the Bard's language, think a contemporary Clueless, where social media meets Elizabethan verse. The modern treatment tends to muddle though when the gender battle goes awry and conventions become tired.
There is something inherently fun about modern adaptations of Shakespeare which encourage an audience to be on the lookout for clever additions and extrapolations. But there is also a tendency to lose the core of emotional text with too much projection, something that happens to a certain degree here.
Brash and bold Petruchio (Kevin MacDonald) sets out to "tame" the rebellious punk, Katherina (Sophie Goulet), to be his dutiful wife. He's put up to the challenge by three suitors who will only be allowed to marry Kate's sister Bianca (Jennifer Dzialoszynski) if the shrew is first with husband. When Kate doesn't take kindly to Petruchio's lessons, a battle of wits leads the couple down the path to marriage.
The problematic comedy is rife with misogynist overtones, something Witzel seeks to tame. He flips Lucentio into Lucentia (Tiana Asperjan), making the wooing of Bianca a girl on girl love story. It's a delightful choice that succeeds, in part, thanks to strong performances from Asperjan and Thomas Olajide, her servant Tranio. Yet, the female couple isn't exactly welcomed into the fold (one character spews utter revulsion) which is awkwardly played for laughs.
MacDonald is confident and captivating as Petruchio and Goulet conveys a challenging journey from villain to victim with subtlety. The one drawback is that the treatment of Kate seems devoid of empathy and underlying softness, which makes the exchanges a lot less enjoyable.
Music from Lyon Smith and accompanying scene transitions help sketch in characters and speed along the plot, but they're a tad overused by the final act. Lindsay C. Walker's set design is tastefully done, something that very possibly could have gone the wrong way given the contemporary setting.
The opening interlude set to Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids" foregrounds the type of Shakespeare about to unfold: "Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends / Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends." Superficiality is played to full tilt in this modern adaptation in High Park.
The Taming of the Shrew, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Ted Witzel, runs in High Park until August 31.
Photo courtesy of CanStage
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