Review: SHREW (Red One / Redone)

Redone brings slapstick comedy and the Yukon to SHREW playing at Toronto’s Storefront Theatre

SHREWDirectors, writers and dramaturges have spent an awful lot of the last 400 years trying to fix The Taming of the Shrew. We’ve tried all-female casts, we’ve tried rewriting sections of the script, we’ve tried pumping it full of goopy sarcasm, we’ve even put Elizabeth I in a leading role, all in the hopes of banishing the distressing way it treats women.

With this in mind, you have no idea how pleasing it is that this new production, by the Red One Theatre Collective (billing themselves as Redone Theatre), has found so simple a solution: do it straight, but do it silly. Their SHREW (playing the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor West) sticks very closely to the original text, but is packed with vaudeville, slapstick, sarcasm, raunch, physical comedy, infectious joy, and good vibes.

The cure for all that ails this play, as it turns out, is a puppet show, three Germans in union suits, and a pair of assless chaps. Who knew?

The story, recycled into all sorts of adaptations (including the musical Kiss Me, Kate), is a soppy romantic comedy. All the well-to-do men of Padua are eager to court the lovely Bianca, but her mother, Baptista refuses to allow Bianca to marry until her older sister, Katherina, has been made a bride. This “Kate”, the title’s ‘shrew’, is a hellion, violently rejecting all attempts to “tame” her: the impossibility of marrying her off causes consternation and frustration to the gentlemen of Padua until a visitor from afar, one Petruchio, arrives and seeks out a wealthy woman for marriage–and hey, presto, a shotgun wedding.

Director Tyrone Savage transposes the play to the Yukon (Padua is somewhere between Dawson City and Whitehorse), but otherwise keeps the text largely intact. And as my guest pointed out after the show, the acting and production is what makes this viable. Audiences don’t always expect the bard to be silly, frivolous, raunchy or overtly-sexual–but Savage didn’t put the anilingus in the show; that’s all on Shakespeare. This production might seem to be full of sly winks and generous interpretations, but Elizabethan theatre was every bit as bawdy as what’s on offer here, and being reminded of this fact is a rewarding experience.

The enormous cast–there are twelve names in the programme, but I’m not even going to pretend I was keeping count–play with, off and around each other beautifully. Interactions between Bianca (Kelly Penner in–rather fetching–drag) and Lucentio (Daniel Briere) are particularly good, the assorted mooks and sad sacks (especially James Wallace as Biondello) are plenty of fun, and Baptista (Claire Burns) is played so well it almost feels like this relatively minor character could carry an entire play on her own. But the best pairing is, hands down, Petruchio (Benjamin Blais) and Kate (Karen Knox), who gel in surprising ways. I came away believing that this couple could quite happily spend the rest of their days playing not-altogether-kind pranks on their friends and neighbours, cackling and grinning throughout.

One of the things the Storefront always gets right is its sets: After Miss Julie‘s wartime cottage; Sucker‘s suburban living room; and, now, Shrew‘s Klondike roadhouse, done up in crushed velvet and frontier timber. Walking into these environments (tonight’s is by designer Stacey-Lee Turner) is all the introduction these shows require; Shrew’s simple mechanical set–a few chairs, a few tables–is all this company needs to make amazing things happen; and director Savage does precisely that. A bit of business between a servant and a chatelain had the audience squealing with laughter, while segments involving puppetry, old-timey special effects, and the entire wedding sequence are as lo-fi as they are impressive.

As I wandered in, I was warned that this show might not be entirely appropriate for children. There is some strong language, a few moments of stage combat, and even some implied serious violence. Ignore that. This is precisely the madcap, ridiculous, downright-cartoonish Shakespeare that kids need. They’ll get the funny stuff, they’ll miss the dirty stuff, and–judging by the children in the audience at opening night–they’ll have a damned good time in the bargain.

One final note: sit in the front row. Trust me on this one.

Details

  • SHREW plays the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor West, near Ossington) through March 2nd, 2014.
  • Plays nightly Tuesday to Saturday at 8 PM. PWYC matinee on Sundays at 2 PM.
  • All tickets are $19.99, plus fees and taxes.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or in-person at the Storefront Theatre immediately before performances.

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