Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jennifer King
By the end of summer I was jonesing for a live Shakespeare fix, so on August 31st I went to Ives Park to catch the final night of the Sonoma County Repertory Theater’s (aka The Rep) production of Taming of the Shrew.
Every summer the theater company does Shakespeare in the park. Even though this comedy is not one of my favorite plays, I had read a good review of it posted on the window of the Rep’s Main Street Theater. Then a woman at work told me she had seen it. She liked the pirate theme. I decided I could probably tolerate the plot since there was so much else going for it.
Harold Bloom, the High Priest of the First Church of Shakespeare, would like us all to know that Shrew is not in the least misogynistic, and that Kate and Petruchio are in fact one of the Bard’s happiest married couples, right up there with Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth. He does go on to admit that while he wishes Kate and “her roaring boy” all the best, they aren’t the kind of couple he’d want to hang around with. I almost never argue with Harold Bloom when it comes to Shakespeare. The Rep didn’t argue either; they didn’t deal at all with the troubling subtext of the play; they just had rollicking good fun.
Jennifer King chose to set the play, not in Padua, but on a pirate ship. The picture of the set is one they graciously allowed me to take before the play started. (I say that seriously, because sets, props and costumes are all intellectual properties. It is usually not all right to photograph them.)
Before the play got rolling, cast members in costume came out and warmed up the crowd, singing pirate songs and encouraging us to yell “Yarrr!” when we saw or heard something we liked. The final “pirate song” of the warm-up show had the chorus of “You’re the worst pirate in the world, ’cause you’re a girl.” Sounds like it shouldn’t be funny, but it was.
The color palette of the costumes stayed in the orange, rust and burnt umber range, matching the boat set and making Kate’s fuchsia garb stand out. Mary Gannon Graham, who played Kate, was outstanding, and she and Dodds Delzell’s Petruchio played off each other perfectly. The actors leaped about the stage, slid down poles and executed full-body pratfalls with exuberant physicality. They got around Petruchio’s horrid treatment of Kate by showing us the moment when Kate (who is already in love with him) realizes that he is actually in love with her. Characters exited and entered in boats they wore like inner tubes—and there was an actual, bright purple swimming-pool inner tube employed at one point.
I don’t know if the energy of the play was high because it was the last night or whether this great cast managed to maintain that level through the whole run, but it is hard to remember when I wasn’t laughing. And because the relationship between Kate and Petruchio was so well defined, I had some realizations about the characters that make me think Harold Bloom is right. Kate’s “shrewishness” probably comes from being the smartest person in her family, certainly the most spirited, and having to live every day knowing that her clueless father loves the simpering, manipulative Bianca (the real shrew,) more than Kate. Shakespeare understood jealously really well, and in this production, when Kate says to her father Baptista (he has a hook for a hand, in pirate homage) “I see, she is your treasure!” I had an “aha” moment. Later, when the boorish Petruchio is dragging Kate away from her own wedding feast, he has a long speech that always irritated me on the page. It goes something like, “She is my goods, my chattel,” (hisses from the audience, by the way) and then runs on. . .and on. In the mouth of Dodds Delzell, the ending line, “She is my every thing,” had a different meaning. What is it like for Kate, always devalued and unfavorably compared to the daughter who is the “good woman,” to suddenly be someone’s “every thing?”
Mary Gannon Graham made Kate sympathetic and believable. She and Dodds Delzell are equally matched. William Wilson was good as Baptista, and Gwen Kingston and Dan Saski are likeable as the secondary set of lovers Bianca and Lucentio. The “suitors,” Gremio and Hortensio were hilarious and played to the max by Chad Yarish and Miyaka Cochrane.
A fun time. Walking home in the dark, exchanging “good evenings” with the hordes of teenagers who were out, hiding their Mike’s Hard Lemonades on the floorboards as I passed, I imagined Kate and her boy-toy sailing the high seas, singing, as the cast had, “Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me.”