Saturday, November 9, 2013

Taming: A veritable shrew indeed

by Jenni Morin

Shakespeare has a tendency to be watered down with overt adaptations, so it is refreshing for a company to be so bold as to mount a production faithful to the original script. The Classic Theatre has done just that with its production of The Taming of the Shrew, now showing at the Sterling Houston Theatre at Jump-Start through November 24. Without question, The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies with commedia dell’arte influence and a timeless tale of young love. It’s also often used as a commentary about the role of women in society and relationships, particularly marriage. With current legislation, in Texas specifically, it takes on an added layer as Katharine shoulders the fight.

Roy Bumgarner and Morgan Clyde as
Petruchio and Katharine.
Photo by Dwayne Green.
This Taming takes place in 16th century Italy where we meet Baptista, who is trying to marry off his two daughters, the fair Bianca and the shrewish Katharine. As Katharine is the oldest, Bianca’s marital fate relies on the wooing of Kate, so Bianca’s suitors Hortensio, Gemio and the young Lucentio convince the audacious Petruchio to take on the challenge. As with any good classic comedy, there is mistaken identity, a lot of cunning, plenty of physical comedy, and, of course, weddings.

Director Diane Malone, who also designed the set and costumes, gifts San Antonio with a wholly authentic production that would have made Shakespeare himself proud. Billy Munoz’s lighting is subtle, yet effective, allowing the cast to draw attention with their words and actions rather than a spotlight. In the same vein, the sound design of Rick Malone marks a few key points in the storyline, which helped the audience catch some defining moments. The production stripped away the pomp and circumstance usually accompanying Shakespearean comedies to let the script speak for itself.

Shakespeare’s tongue-lashings, spankings and physical comedy were not lost on this cast with each actor finding a way to differentiate one wordy speech from the others. While there are some awkward moments as the servants fall over themselves without precise comedic timing, it is clear they are not merely copies of the archetype. Joseph Urick especially excels as his Tranio takes on the guise of his master Lucentio with an over-the-top bravado. He is surpassed, however, by the sneering suitor Gremio, played by Richard Solis. Even still, John Stillwaggon’s Grumio makes a great first impression in “knocking” his master Petruchio, while Maggie Tonra as Biondello serves as a great messenger advancing the plot with a fantastic gait.

Christie Beckham’s Bianca seems closer to the intended character than many others in the past and James Welch certainly pulls off Lucentio daft about Bianca. Torence Brandon White has some great moments as Hortensio. Not to discount any performance, all the players perform well, each allowing their parts to contrast with the leading couple’s.

But the play would not be without the shrew and the man tasked with taming her. Morgan Clyde and Roy B. Bumgarner II portray Katharine and Petruchio, respectively, with a welcome touch of realism. At times their caricatures shown through, but it is their exchanges that draw audiences back. Clyde embodies the quick wit required of a Kate while Bumgarner whole-heartedly throws himself into the role of that brazen woman conqueror. It is the evolution of their relationship that makes this production, most notably that Katharine never loses her tenacity even during her closing speech.

Through the final “goodnight,” Classic’s Taming is a veritable representation of the Shakespearean play. By shedding most of the distracting elements other productions hide behind, this rendition focuses on accurate costuming and the raw wit and comedy laid forth in the script. Classic’s Taming is rich in talent and authenticity, a truly legitimate Shakespearean production.


The Taming of the Shrew will run at The Sterling Houston Theatre at Jump-Start through November 24, 2013 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theclassictheatre.org.

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