William Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew possibly as early as 1590, shortly after he moved to London. The bright, young author from the English countryside, brimming with ideas and ambition, may have felt overwhelmed by the big city bustle. It must have been a comfort to write a comic send-up of bumpkins and louts with high-fallutin’ pretensions, as well as easy fodder to please his new London audiences. Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s best loved, most produced, and most adapted comedies (from Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me, Kate to the 1967 Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor film and opera and ballet, as well). For a bucolic setting like Bill Allen Memorial Park at The Colony north of Dallas, with its tiny amphitheatre nestled into a peaceful meadow hillside, this frothy, light romance makes fine summer’s eve entertainment. And it’s free!
Men are from Mars and women from Venus? Shakespeare didn’t write about the battle of the sexes in these exact terms, but you sure get that picture when Shrew reveals a pesky crew of crackpot suitors vying for the hand of the sweet younger sister of an infamously quarrelsome “shrew” (an unpleasant, outspoken woman with a violent temper). Director Julia Gayden Nelson’s nimble cast enters in full wrangling dither and never lets up the banter. Playing worn, exasperated Baptista, mother of the two daughters, Christina Clark elicits much sympathy as she tries to keep the fighting girls separated and the suitors for younger Bianca (conveyed as virginal but clearly spoiled and whining by Jennie Zurovetz) at bay. A major problem prevents Bianca from becoming a bride. NOBODY can marry Bianca until SOMEBODY marries her elder sister Katharine, but who wants her, the spiteful hellcat? Elegant, slim, dark-haired Jordan Desmarais makes a comely Kate with a simmering pugnacious bent that keeps everyone at a distance with remote chill. Enter the bull in this farcical china closet of switched identities and romantic intrigue to turn every iota of decorum upside down. Scattering food, dishes, women’s hats and fine-made clothing about the stage until he gets what he wants, an obedient wife in Kate, Petruchio, the effusively loutish “hero” of the play, must own the stage at every appearance. Director Nelson cast Dallas–based regional actor R. Andrew Aguilar in this crucial role, and he more than fills the bill, hurling the play into chaotic crescendo with every outrageous act or poetic utterance in the script. Playing Petruchio with a devil-may-care, macho-esque, offhand patrician air of utter abandon punctuated by occasional irreverent coltish twinkle, Aguilar carries the show and sweeps a surprised, overwhelmed Kate along for the ride. He speaks Shakespeare’s language with measured ease, clarity and resonance. Other actors in the show, less experienced but equally dedicated, struggle some with lines, diction and motivation, yet still charm the audience with their antics. Surely the ensemble will remember their lines better and settle into more natural rhythms as they get past opening night jitters. A humorous bit of gender bending helps keep the production current. Modern dress costumes in grey and black-toned geometric patterns (Tommie Lea Ealy) pop out attractively from the solid grey flat background, giving the whole performance an uptown flair. It’s summer fun. It’s Shakespeare in a truly lovely park. Bring lawn chairs, a cooler of libations (no glass containers allowed) and let yourself be thoroughly amused.
Cast includes: Kolby Campbell, Rachael “Rae” Dawson, Adam Kullman, Alle Mims, Brandon Whitlock and Sherrie Wollenhaupt
The Taming of the Shrew is presented by the City Manager’s Arts Committee of The Colony and runs Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8pm through August 2, just after the day’s baking heat diminishes. It’s free, and the first 400 people in the park get free In-N-Out burgers. YUM!
Photos by Ron Wheeler