Shakespeare’s Shrew is always a challenge. Misogynistic in sentiment, slapstickishly machismo in design, its story of how to tame a headstrong, stubborn woman couldn’t be more ethically risky, especially considering recent high publicity woman-battering NFL headlines (not to mention women battering in the military, in the police force, among the lawyers and judges, and the….).
I’m very happy to say that, as directed by Ty Hallmark, the Pallas Theatre Collective’s Cajun The Taming of the Shrew is not only funny and feisty but the play’s ethical conundrum is negotiated and transformed. The results are decidedly original in feel.
By placing Shrew in Cajun country, Hallmark has found a locale and a culture where not only the sexual interplay between the men and the women presents as authentic but even the plot’s brutality allows for a certain tongue-in-cheek, roughhouse gamesmanship that somewhat evens out the status of male/female relations.
With its talented young ensemble and its spirited Cajun music, this Shrew will leave you laughing and dancing the whole of the evening.
The success of Pallas’s Shrew is due in no small measure to Gerrad Alex Taylor as Petruchio (Petruchieaux). Petruchio takes up the challenge of taming a perpetually angry Kate with an infectious self-confidence. Not only does he have enough charm to calm a rattlesnake, but he has the patience of a surgeon performing a two-day operation. At one point, Taylor’s Petruchio offers his lessons on how to heal an angry woman directly to the audience, asking us pointblank if anyone can do it better. No one stood to take his place, wisely acknowledging his mastery.
Shannon Listol Wilson might not approach her Kate with the same enthusiasm as Taylor does his Petruchio, but her Kate is most definitely Petruchio’s match. Wilson gives Kate an ornery outlook on life that can only be broken with enduring horseplay.
Each member of the ensemble adds to the production’s Cajun context.
Kate’s family is led by Baptista, played with determined absentmindedness by Jane Petkofsky. Her younger sister, Bianca, played by Loren Bray, is everything that Kate is not. Bray coyly prances around the stage, joyously flirting with every man she encounters.
Bianca’s suitors are a hilarious group of locals, led by Brandon Mitchell’s Gremio (Gremieaux): his Cajun linguistics, marrying Shakespeare’s words with an authentic dialect, is a play in-and-of-itself. You’ll delight in his every phrase even if you’re somewhat befuddled by exactly what he just said. David Dubov as Hortensio (Horensieaux) and as Vincentio (Vincentieaux) and as Hortensio dressing up as the music teacher makes him the winner of the master of the fake hair award.
Meanwhile, the winner of Bianca’s hand in marriage is Lucentio (Lucentieaux), played with true academic sincerity by Jonathan Douglass. His manservant, Tranio (Tranieaux), is played with great aplomb by Luke Cieslewicz.
Rounding out the cast is the troupe of musician-actors who not only fill the audience’s ears with delightful Bayou but offer us funny characters. Jon Jon Johnson’s Grumio (Grumieaux) plays a great comic fiddle; his barefooted joyfulness on stage is contagious as well. When Javier del Pilar enters the stage as the awkwardly contorted Biondellio (Biondelleaux), he has the audience hanging, literally, on his every word.
Finally, we have Sara Bickler (the widow) and Andrew Keller (pendant/guitarist/bandleader). Although their characters have their moments, their musicianship and singing are most memorable. Keller’s soulful second act song is still resonating in my ears.
As the troupe’s music successfully transports Shakespeare’s world to Cajun country, it is aided by Brian J. Shaw’s costume designs, Kevin O’Connell’s sound design, and lights by Jason Aufdem-Brinke.
Even if you have seen The Taming of the Shrew numerous times, as I have, this Shrew will provide you with a new and interesting perspective. You’ll find yourself enchanted by the banter and amused by the joyful interactions. That final Kate monologue and its mountain of challenges might not have been conquered, but by that point the spirit of invention has so permeated the theatre that you’ll overlook it.
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, with one intermission.