I’ve spent a lot of time wandering through High Park – it’s one of my favorite areas of the city, a great green space to get away for a while. It’s also an area that has held plenty of surprises for me.
When I first started hanging out there, I had no idea there was a hidden labyrinth let alone a zoo. And up until very recently I didn’t realize there was an open air amphitheatre there that has a seating capacity of a thousand.
I also didn’t know that there would be two Shakespearean plays performed there – alternating between the comedic Taming of the Shrew and the tragedy Macbeth – throughout the summer.
On a day that seemed to increasingly threaten storms throughout, my friend Paul and I were a bit concerned that the sky would open up while we were seated outside – but onward we headed towards the park.
It’s a bit of a trek to get to the ampitheatre from the park entrance, but there are signs to guide you along the way.
Considering that Shakespeare in High Park is, well, in the park, it’d be wise to prepare and dress accordingly. Comfortable walking shoes, blankets and cushions, a jacket for the evenings that have quickly become chilly, food and drinks in litterless containers, will add to your enjoyment of the performance. It’s a 90 minute performance without intermission so get comfortable.
We chose to see Taming of the Shrew for our evening of Shakespearean entertainment – a darkly comedic story about two sisters, Katherina (Sophie Goulet) and Bianca (Jennifer Dzialoszynski), entertaining suitors for their hands in marriage. Bianca, the younger and more naive of the two, though with plenty vying for her hand, cannot marry until her older sister is married first.
Katherina, on the other hand, is a firecracker – shrill, stubborn, proud, and swears that no man will ever hold her down. Then she meets Petruchio (Kevin MacDonald), a drunk with a gambling problem and a wit and attitude that rivals hers.
Attracted first and foremost to the expensive dowry that accompanies Katherina in marriage, Petruchio defies the odds and the man-hating Katherina herself to secure the marriage and claim his prize.
This is a play that shines a light on a number of controversial topics including spousal abuse, entrapment, misogyny, and how to control a woman deemed ‘too feisty for her own good’. For the numerous feminists that I call friends, this is the one Shakespearean play that makes them want to pull their hair out.
This is also a comedy where all of the above is meant to be taken in jest. The antagonist is meant to be seen as delirious and mad. And with costuming and staging reminiscent of Eurotrash colliding with West Hollywood, it’s very difficult to take this production seriously.
There is plenty of humour to be had as this production is tinted pink with a heavy dose of gay fashionista culture, modern accents (an ongoing Starbucks gag and the use of iPhones ready to record the madness at any given notice), and well-placed musical transitions. There’s even a moment of audience participation in the form of finding someone to play the small part of Tranio’s father.
This abridged production took a few liberties with the performance including turning Lucentio female (Lucentia, played by Tiana Asperjan), thus giving Bianca a lesbian love connection.
It was the abridging that made this production a difficult one for my friend Paul to swallow. He felt the portrayal of Petruchio to be more mean-spirited and downright misogynistic than mad and insane taking away any chance to sympathize with the antagonist and removing any endearing quality.
I couldn’t help but agree and felt that the development of Katherina’s character as she descended into her own madness living under Petruchio’s rule got lost in the struggle. Despite her final monologue, it was left unclear whether she was giving a final sarcastic verbal middle finger to her oppressors or if she lost herself and gave up, becoming a victim.
I also felt that the highly exaggerated fashionista ‘Queens of West Hollywood’ gag was cute and funny at first but became increasingly overdone. The Starbucks gag repeated one too many times taking away from the flow of the production.
Without reading too much into the subject matter of the story, Taming of the Shrew is entertaining, lively, funny, and this production in the park takes enough leaps and bounds to leave you entranced.
- Taming of the Shrew is performed at the High Park Amphitheatre (1873 Bloor Street West).
- Performances are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays until August 31 beginning at 8 pm.
- Tickets are $15 and $20 for general admission and $25 to reserve a cushion in the premium zone (first four rows).
- All seating is first come first served.
- Tickets can be purchased online at CanadianStage.
Photo of Sophie Goulet and Kevin MacDonald by David Hou.