Here’s how to enjoy the Shakespeare Bash’d take on Taming of the Shrew, a site-specific play staged at the legendary Victory Cafe in Mirvish Village as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival: show up early, stay late, order beer.
The show’s opening scene, which skitters up and down the Markham Street sidewalk, kicks off a full twenty minutes before the play officially begins, and you won’t want to miss it. If you’re planning on dinner at Victory (a good idea), keep in mind: getting tickets for this show is unusually complicated by Fringe standards, and will scuttle all but the most carefully-laid dining plans.
If you’ve never seen it before, Taming of the Shrew is a play about marriage. Baptista Minola (David Mackett) is a wealthy well-to-do with two very different daughters: Bianca (Sophia Fabiilli), who is the object of affection of just about every man in town, and Katherina “the cursed” (Julia Nish-Lapidus), the shrew of the play’s title. A motley crew of suitors vie to marry Bianca, and to Baptista’s dismay, none of them are interested in the combative Katherina.
Unfortunately for this randy lot, Baptista knows how to play the hand he’s dealt: he decrees that until Katherina is wed, Bianca is off limits to any and all would-be bridegrooms, unleashing a bevy of hairbrained schemes to get the shrew betrothed. In the midst of this angst, the affable Petruchio (James Wallis) saunters onto the scene, falls for Katherina (who happens to be Wallis’s fiancée), and then things start to get really interesting.
As with any Shakespeare production, centuries-old action, emotion and wit lives and dies by the capability of its cast. The Shakespeare Bash’d perfomers exhibit a sharp sense of comedic timing and an ability to deliver dialogue in a way that makes old characters seem new, and breathes life into sex jokes that are older than Canada.
The play is rife with enthusiasm and inventiveness. At one point an actor accidentally shattered a pane of glass while banging on one of Victory Cafe’s french doors. In a beat too brilliant to be staged, the following line – “What’s he that knocks as he would beat down the gate?” – was delivered with such a subtle sense of irony that it was incorporated perfectly into the rhythm of the scene.
This is exactly the type of cast Taming of the Shrew demands. The actors clearly have a great time, they bring energy to the script and liveliness to Victory’s crowded upper floor. The ninety minutes fly by too quickly.
A word on misogyny: Taming of the Shrew is emblematic of Shakespeare’s best comedies: persistently controversial, bawdy, and ambiguous enough to lend itself to multiple interpretations. It is also pretty misogynist.
Encountering to his bride-to-be for the first time, Petruchio swoons, “A lusty wench! How I long to have some chat with her.” This is the most gracious compliment Taming of the Shrew pays to any of its female characters. If this is the type of thing that spoils your supper (a tragedy at the Vic) avoid not only this play, but any play with “taming” and “shrew” in its title.
For everyone else, Fringe just doesn’t get any better than this. Do yourself a favour and order a cask ale.
- Taming of the Shrew plays at Venue #21, Victory Cafe, 581 Markham Street.
- Show times: July 6 7:30 PM, July 7 9:00 PM, July 8 5:30 PM, July 10 7:30 PM, July 12 7:30 PM, July 13 7:30 PM, July 14 7:30 PM, July 15 5:30 PM.
- All individual Fringe tickets are $10 ($5 for FringeKids) at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online atwww.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows