Toronto’s Driftwood Theatre boldly reinterprets Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew
Driftwood Theatre’s bold reinterpretation of The Taming of the Shrew, set during the 1989 Toronto Pride Festival, manages to turn Shakespeare’s most problematic comedy into an enjoyable night at the park.
I love Shakespeare, but I only love modernized Shakespeare when there is a clear artistic purpose behind the modernization. Fortunately, that’s exactly the case in Driftwood Theatre’s production. Bring a jacket for the evening chill, a blanket or a lawn chair for the dusty grass, and an open mind.
Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is problematic by modern standards because its primary storyline follows a sharp-tongued, headstrong woman (Katharine) who is forcibly “tamed” by her suitor-turned-husband Petruchio.
Amazingly, Driftwood Theatre managed to turn this (in my opinion, deeply misogynistic) story on its head by introducing a BDSM-esque dominance/submission dynamic between Katharine and Petruchio. Their relationship is presented as unconventional, but consensual, and the atmosphere of the play changes as a result.
There were many fun moments in The Taming of the Shrew. I particularly enjoyed the scene with the tutors and the broken keyboard. My friend Manu, who accompanied me to this play, especially liked the modernization of place names. References to characters being from “Toronto” and “North York” always got a laugh from the audience.
My favourite moment was a tiny detail in Lucentio and Bianca’s French lesson: they are reading the incredibly beautiful “taming” passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. It is also quoted in the play’s program.
Of course, some of the problematic moments in Shakespeare’s script remained problematic. Nods and winks can only do so much to destabilize a text, even in the hands of this talented cast. The worst offender was Katherine’s famous speech exhorting wives to submit to and obey their husbands. My friend and I found it impossible not to cringe.
Driftwood Theatre’s The Taming of the Shrew certainly isn’t conventional Shakespeare. Characters sport gender non-conforming or unconventional outfits on several occasions, including Petruchio’s garters, corset, shiny black short-shorts, codpiece, and collar. I don’t consider myself conservative, but I was somewhat taken aback by the scene where Katharine binds, blindfolds, and threatens to whip her sister Bianca with a belt.
I liked the brief mashup of modern and Elizabethan English at the beginning of the show, though some of the modern English (“What do you think I am, nuts?”) was a little casual for my taste. I also enjoyed the cast’s a cappella renditions of ’80s songs with rewritten lyrics, which were scattered throughout the show.
Truth is, there was something wonderful about watching Shakespeare outdoors in the heart of summer. Kids played on the grass nearby; an occasional car grumbled down the adjacent street; dog-walkers stopped to watch the action for a minute. Slowly, the full moon rose above the trees.
It’s impossible to say what Shakespeare would have thought of Driftwood Theatre’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, but I think he would have liked the idea of a theatre without walls. An open interpretation deserves an open space.
- The Taming of the Shrew is playing in Toronto on July 19-24 at Withrow Park, 725 Logan Ave, at 7:30 p.m.
- Following its run in Toronto, the show will continue its tour of Southern Ontario until August 14; see website for details
- Tickets are PWYC with a suggested donation of $20. Reservations can be purchased for $20 and can be made online or by calling 844-601-8057
- A limited number of lawn chairs and blankets are available for rent. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own.
Photo of Siobhan Richardson & Geoffrey Armour by Dahlia Katz