By Samia Afsar
The BC Theater Department began its spring semester performances with an adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew,” a play written by William Shakespeare and directed by Ivey Lowe. Its curtains opened on Friday, Mar. 3, in the New Workshop Theater.
For those unfamiliar with “The Taming of the Shrew,” the 1593 comedy revolves around a local lord tricking an intoxicated tinker named Christopher Sly into believing that he too is a lord. The devious lord then makes his men carry Sly to his manor, where he is dressed in his finery and treated as a real nobleman. Once recovered, Sly refuses to believe the men’s narrative but once hearing of his beautiful wife – a pageboy dressed in women’s clothing – he gladly accepts himself as the lord they claim him to be and wishes to be left alone with his “bride.” But Sly’s servants inform him that a troupe of actors has arrived to present him with a play. The performance he watches makes up the story of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
In the Italian city of Padua, a mad romantic named Lucentio is in love with soft-spoken Bianca but cannot marry her until her sharped-tongued older sister, Katherine, marries first. The eccentric Petruchio eventually weds Katherine but uses a number of tactics, such as depriving her of food and rest, in an attempt to tame the ‘shrew.’
The BC Theater Department’s adaptation, however, begins at a 21st birthday party set in 2023 where a lord (Emma Gibson) similarly persuades a cast of characters to fool the drunken Christopher Sly (Matthew Zimmerman) that he is a lord himself with countless servants and a fair, obedient wife. The titular play is then staged for Sly, which in this production is set in 18th-century Italy.
In her director’s note, Ivey Lowe emphasized that she intended to show “the dangers of a culture and community that punish women for having the audacity to be themselves, and continually give access and benefits to those who perform gender ‘correctly’ still play out every day. Whether at a 21st birthday party or in 18th-century Italy, the loop continues to repeat and reflect itself,” she wrote.
Despite rightfully aiming to illustrate the misogyny that has continually impacted women, the 21st-century modification in the department’s adaptation was simply unnecessary. Especially when considering that the majority of the play was still set in the 18th century, its inclusion proved to be redundant and dare I say – questioned the intellectual capacity of the patrons to independently infer familiarities connecting the past and the present.
Its failure also lies in its structure. In this production, the characters from the birthday party cast themselves as the characters from “The Taming of the Shrew,” making its narrative needlessly convoluted. This is to no blame on the cast or crew, who evidently have put in tremendous efforts to ensure an enjoyable theater experience for their patrons.
With the black box theater transformed into a pink checkered conversation pit, complete with a matching pink chandelier hanging from above, the set design managed by Jeoffrey Forde pleasantly reflected the coruscating aesthetics of Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” (2006).
Each of the actor’s ardent performances remained enthused for the duration of the two-hour-long show with such intimacy that the night transformed into a tribute to performance art. Actors often openly engaged with the audience members, whether to convey emotion through slight nods and whispers or by simply drunkenly sitting next to them and striking up quick banter.
In particular, there was an exceptionally brilliant performance by Susan Myburgh and Briar Robin Pollock, who both recruited such elegance and poise even in the utter ridiculousness of their characters.
The beauty in BC’s production of the “Taming of the Shrew” lies in its performance. Perhaps its narrative would’ve been more cohesive if it tied the 21st-century narrative throughout its entirety, or perhaps if one actor played one character at a time. Either way, the student performers never disappoint and with the upcoming production of “The Shortworks Festival” directed by Fransico Solorzano set to debut later this month, I am eagerly awaiting another powerful presentation.
“The Shortworks Festival” will open on Mar. 31 in the Don Buchwald theater.