Great Lakes Theater's Production of 'The Taming of the Shrew' is a Comedy With Consequence

click to enlarge Great Lakes Theater's Production of 'The Taming of the Shrew' is a Comedy With Consequence
Photo by Roger Mastroianii

“These plays have endured not because they offer solutions, but because they ask the right questions.”

Sara Bruner stated this in her director’s note in Great Lakes Theater’s “The Taming of the Shrew” playbill.

She is, of course, referring to directing Shakespeare’s over 400-year-old play, a show that is witty, comedic, fun and incredibly sexist.

And so, while Great Lakes Theater’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is just as funny as the show’s marketing would have you believe, the theme will (hopefully) leave audiences a bit perturbed. It will make you laugh, but it will also make you think.

Baptista has two daughters, the obedient, charming Bianca, and Katherine, a sharp-tongued, independent thinker. While Bianca has three suitors, Hortensio, Gremio and Lucentio, Baptista refuses to give away his youngest daughter until the elder Katherine is married.

Luckily, Petruchio cares not for qualities of the woman he is marrying but is rather more interested in her family’s wealth. Petruchio marries Katherine and begins employing silly antics in order to tame his new wife. Meanwhile, Lucentio is attempting to woo Bianca after disguising himself as a tutor while his servant takes on his identity.

In typical Shakespeare fashion, disguises and mistaken identities run rampant. And while reading the synopsis of the show may seem confusing, Great Lakes Theater ensures that the plotline is clear.

They know their Shakespeare.

Under director Bruner, it's obvious that the cast understands the language, masters the inflection, adds just the right amount of physicality to convey the script’s meaning and more.

What they can’t do, and what practically no theater can do, is change the script—and thus, the message behind it.

Screen adaptations based upon this story, such as the ever-popular 1999 film “10 Things I Hate About You” have no such problem. This means that when we observe a classical work, performed in a mostly traditional fashion, we must use it as a mirror to look back upon the past while also observing the present to determine if we’ve made progress.

Women in the audience will find themselves cringing at the last 20 minutes of the show when three newly married men place bets as to which of their wives is the most obedient. And as Katherine delivers a speech about obedience, it’s impossible not to feel disappointed.

This is when Great Lakes Theater metaphorically holds up the mirror to the audience and asks if how far we have progressed is enough.

Ruminations on society and revitalizing classical works aside, many other aspects of the show are downright enjoyable.

Jessika D. Williams as Katherine begins the show as a badass. She is a tempest that devours any ill-suited suitor in her path and cannot be contained. Audiences will prefer her “untamed” personality.

Doing the taming is Jonathan Dyrud as Petrucio. He is obviously adept with Shakespearian prose, mastering the language with an apparent ease. His character is portrayed as cunning and determined, however, one cannot help but feel distain for his methods of taming his wife.

Petrucio’s servant Grumio, played by Joe Wegner, is absolutely hilarious. Wegner’s physicality, large personality, and at one point, improvisation, is top-notch. Another endearing servant is Tranio, who is embodied by Maggie Kettering. When she disguises herself as her master, Lucentio, the overly masculine movements she employs are fantastically funny.

The same can be said for Jodi Dominik, who in the second act plays a Merchant who disguises herself as Lucentio’s father in order to secure Lucentio’s marriage to Bianca. She receives scores of laughs when she adorns the accent and stereotypical movements of a New Yorker as her disguise.

Taha Mandviwala as Lucentio and Mandie Jenson as Bianca are both equally eager to please, sweet and doting. They at first appear to be the perfect match.
Other suitors Hortensio and Gremio, played by Eric Damon Smith and Lynn Robert Berg, respectively, also add to the show’s comedy, especially because Hortensio is dressed in a vibrant mixture of green and orange and Gremio resembles a garden gnome.

They are dressed ridiculously by Leah Piehl, who uses a mixture of dated, somewhat bizarre patterns and period accurate design in her costumes.

Rick Martin’s lighting design is equally as bizarre yet enjoyable, as it employs a strange mixture of fluctuating colors. Likewise, Matthew Webb’s sound design will sometimes transition from a pleasant melody to a strained cacophony.

Once again, Great Lakes Theater has staged its Shakespeare in traditional fashion by creating a set that allows some of the audience to sit on the stage floor or on a balcony behind the players. Russell Metheny’s very bare-boned, Elizabethan theater-like set design allows for fun audience interaction.

“The Taming of the Shrew” is marketed as a comedy, and Great Lakes Theater surely delivers, but due to the theme of the show, you should walk away with not only laughs, but also a sense of discomfort.

Through April 14th at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets and info call 216-241-6000 or visit
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