William Shakespeare has, and always will be, the ultimate playwright. His stirring tragedies and uproarious comedies continually merit praise for their strokes of genius, and even now, over 400 years later, the theatre of Shakespeare is still applicable to our lives. Throw in a surprising twist, and our appreciation of such timeless performances can be elevated. Like Theatre Erindale’s production of the classic comedy, The Taming of the Shrew (1589-1594), portrays a masterful and hilarious reversal of gender roles and conveys the general message that any kind of social behaviour is not always gender-specific.
The play begins with a tinker named Christopher Sly (Ryan Fisher) that passes out in his drunken state, and is found by a lord (Paolo Santalucia) who wishes to convince the beggar that he is actually a lord. Sly falls for the jest and the lord orders a performance to be put on for him, which makes up the remainder of The Taming of the Shrew.
Meanwhile, a young suitor named Lucentio (Sydney Dunitz) falls in love with the fair Bianca (Kevin Owen), but her father Baptista Minola (Jessica Séguin) will not allow the courting of his beautiful, young daughter until his older, ill-tempered daughter, Katherine (Ryan Fisher) has first been wed.
A man named Petruchio (Lisa Justine Hood) arrives from Verona in search of a bride with a fortune to her name, and without even hearing a description of the stubborn and loud-mouthed Katherine, declares that he will marry her. Over time, Petruchio grounds down Katherine’s irritable tendencies so that she obeys his every beck and call, and is thus finally able to tame the shrew.
Lucentio then devises a plan to court Bianca in spite of her two other suitors, Gremio (Melanie Hrymak) and Hortensio (Samara Stern). He disguises himself as a Latin tutor, so that he can confess his love to her while Lucentio’s servant, Tranio (Megan Poole) pretends to be Lucentio in order to prove to Baptista that he is deserving of his daughter. Hortensio also disguises himself as a music tutor for Bianca, but his attempts are not enough to woo her as she has already fallen in love with Lucentio.
Mimi Mekler’s direction paves the way for the unconventional portrayal of roles, and the decision to switch the characters from male to female and vice versa, proved to have no hindering effects on the authenticity of the plot.
However, in the midst of many dual roles, there is some confusion during the transition from the opening plot to the remainder of the play. The concept of the play within a play could have implemented a more distinct shift into the main story line, as Fisher and Owen go from playing Sly and one of the lord’s pages, to Katherine and Bianca with only a playbook to signify their sudden change of roles. Not until a few scenes later do Fisher and Owen return with a change of costume to cancel out any confusion regarding their roles. For someone who isn’t familiar with the storyline, the swift exchanges of speech and context can be difficult to keep up with.
Nevertheless, there is great fluidity throughout the performance; the characters alter the rapidly-changing backdrop as the scenes progress, yet these technical necessities do not distract from the central acting. Also, the sound effects and lighting are especially on point, greatly enhancing the changes in mood alongside the help of the music score.
The performers make good use of the stage, and their constant motion keeps the audience on their toes and prevents the plot from becoming static. The costumes also add a dazzling touch, and many of the actors skilfully utilize their garments to their advantage.
While The Taming of the Shrew is already one of Shakespeare’s great comedic plays, many outrageous subtleties in the text are further boosted through character intonation and gesture. The clever use of props are played to humourous effect; most notable being a plastic tree from which a character picks an apple that, upon biting, turns out to be real.
The cast delivers a very convincing performance, and the actors immerse themselves into their characters. Ryan Fisher gives an amusing performance as the tinker, but becomes truly remarkable in his depiction of Katherine, combining just the right amount of hilarity and reserve to deliver a captivating portrayal of a wife’s impressionability.
Credit also goes to the other leading lady, or gentleman, Kevin Owen. His natural ability is showcased in his clear speech and quaint mannerisms, and despite the fact that Owen’s time on stage is not as long as others, he manages to stand out rather endearingly as Bianca. Lisa Justine successfully portrays the pompous nature of Petruchio through her meticulous body language, and Melanie Hrymak gives a superb performance as the jester-like character of Gremio, with her hunched-over waddle and scratchy inflection.
However, it is the male portrayals of female characters that really stand out, conveying the delicacy and emotional depth that are innate to women. The production goes for its second round on March 3-7, so venture over to Theatre Erindale for a performance that will surely entertame you.