Repercussion theatre breathes new life into an old shrew
Miriam Cummings (Bianca), Davide Chiazzese (Baptista), Sehar Bhojani (Biondella) and Kristen Rasmussen (Katharina). Photo by Kate McDonnell.
The basic skill in Shakespearean performance is the ability to toss off Bill’s best high-flying gibberish with an air. The audience goes away convinced the actors understood it all, even if they didn’t themselves. But Repercussion Theatre goes one better in its high-energy Summer 2012 production of Taming of the Shrew: the plotlines stay sharp and don’t get lost in the verbal sparring between characters.
There’s a convention in minimal Shakespeare productions of doing a frantic amount of balletic, even acrobatic action, then freezing into tableaux for the more important speeches. We see a fair bit of this here, the production being blessed with not one but two tall, freakishly skinny actors, Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski (Lucentio) and Alex McCooeye (Petruchio), both of whom are capable of taking a pratfall with style. Still, the directors need to trust the dialogue enough not to instruct their actors to jive around quite so much while speaking, as if we might get bored if they didn’t.
The addition of several familiar Italian songs like “Eh Cumpari” is a real plus. Davide Chiazzese, who plays paterfamilias Baptista Minola, has a rich tenor that brightens several scenes. There’s enough music sprinkled through the show to be fun without turning it into a weak approximation of a musical, as has happened with a couple of Repercussion productions in past years, and the Italian tunes remind us that the story is set in a fantasy Italy of no particular era.
There’s no room in a review like this to revive the age-old debate about whether Shrew is a misogynistic tirade or an ironic romp, but Kristen Rasmussen as Katharina carries the role with enough power that the final, climactic speech about the submissive role of a wife reads as the conclusions of a woman who has thoroughly plumbed the psyche of her new husband in three days, rather than as a statement from a doormat. Miriam Cummings plays Bianca as more flirtatious than demure, and putting her in a blonde wig and scarlet costume certainly signals that she isn’t to be taken as quite the virginal maiden that her suitors and father would like to think.
Most of my quibbles are small ones. A joke turning the song “Cecilia” into “Bianca” was funny once, but not three times. The utility of turning the servant character Biondello into a female character called Biondella is doubtful, except that it creates an additional part for a female player. As is almost usual, the production omits the opening two “induction” scenes and plunges right into the action in Padua, but that’s more of a plus, because the play doesn’t return us to the framing story anyway. In fact, it’s quite a sudden ending: Katharina delivers her speech, a couple of male characters say “whoa” and then the applause. Good stuff. ■
Repercussion Theatre’s production of Taming of the Shrew will move to various parks throughout the next two weeks. See the Shakespeare in the Park site for dates, times and locations.