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No profit grows where is no pleasure taken – ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

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BREWER – When it comes to Ten Bucks Theatre Company’s annual Shakespeare Under the Stars production, the show must go on – pandemic be damned.

This summer’s offering – directed by Amy Roeder – is “The Taming of the Shrew,” with performances at three different venues: Brewer’s Indian Trail Park (July 16-19, 23-24), Old Town’s Hirundo Wildlife Refuge (July 25-26) and Fort Knox in Prospect (July 30-31, Aug. 1-2). All performances start at 6 p.m.

Due to the current circumstances, social distancing measures will be in place (including for the cast). Audiences will be limited to 50 people and the show will be presented without an intermission.

There are a lot of challenges that come with trying to mount a show right now. By all appearances, Ten Bucks has met all of them with enthusiasm and passion. This is a difficult piece to do well under ideal conditions, let alone now. Yet this intrepid crew has overcome the obstacles of circumstance. The result is a charming, engaging piece of theatre – one that might help you escape, if only for a couple of hours. These days, that’s a precious gift.

In the city of Padua, a lord named Baptista (Joe Fisher) is faced with a dilemma. A pair of suitors – Gremio (Holly Schreiber) and Hortensio (Jennifer Guare) – are seeking the hand of his younger daughter Bianca (Natalie Lisnet). However, Baptista refuses to allow Bianca to wed until his elder daughter – headstrong and stubborn Kathrina (Aimee Gerow), the titular shrew – is married off.

Meanwhile, a young nobleman named Lucentio (Robert Brangwynne) has become enamored of Bianca as well. In an effort to insinuate himself into her situation, he enlists his servant Tranio (Melissa Burkart) to pretend to be him so he can pretend to be a tutor and secretly woo Bianca.

Hortensio encounters an old friend by the name of Petruchio (Nathan Roach), who is traveling with his servant Grumio (Tyler Costigan). Hortensio enlists his old friend – who is seeking a bride – to court Katherina. Additionally, he asks that Petruchio present him (in disguise) as a music and math tutor for Bianca.

It isn’t long before the eager Baptista agrees to marry off Kate to Petruchio; Petruchio counters Kate’s famed shrewishness by killing her with kindness. He returns home to prepare for the wedding. In the meantime, the disguised Lucentio (calling himself Cambio) and Hortensio (as Litio) try desperately to woo Bianca, with the former having considerably more success than the latter.

But when Petruchio and Kate actually wed, chaos reigns, with him behaving like a madman throughout the ceremony. Ah, but there’s method in his madness and his reasons will be made clear. And since this is the Bard, the many deceptions and disguises are doomed to unravel, leaving all involved to discover the truth behind the lies – and while some will be pleased, others are bound for disappointment.

Live theatre, even outdoors, is a daunting undertaking right now. But thanks to Roeder’s direction and the efforts of the cast, it proves possible. One might find themselves watching, wondering about distance and personal contact – this is a physical show, after all. Yet after the first few minutes, the concerns fade into the background – Roeder and company (including fight choreographer Angela Bonacasa) have committed so thoroughly and worked so tirelessly that you simply don’t notice. It’s seamless - a remarkable achievement.

In addition, while “Shrew” as a script has its problematic aspects, Ten Bucks has crafted this production to minimize those issues, finding instead ways to point out and celebrate the proto-equality that lies buried within the text. There are still moments that feel … off, but for the most part, a more positive message reigns.

Let’s talk performances. Gerow is a sharp-tongued, imperious Kate, fiery and passionate, haughty but not snobby. She radiates strength and wields her wit like a rapier, even as the battles she chooses to fight change. Roach counters her with a roguish charm, finding ways to approach unlikeability without ever crossing the line. Some of the best scenes in the show revolve around their verbal ripostes (with one another most of all, though they take aim at other targets as well).

Natalie Lisnet is a sweet, charming delight as Bianca, the Platonic ideal of the younger sister, but Lisnet also manages to project the keen intellect beneath the sunny demeanor. Brangwynne is a dynamic presence as Lucentio, bringing big and welcome energy every time he steps on stage. Shakespeare lets the servants shine in this one – Costigan’s Grumio packs each moment with goofball enthusiasm, while Burkart’s Tranio gives the impression of being the smartest person in the room.

Schreiber and Guare breathe life into their respective scheming as Gremio and Hortensio, while Fisher is appropriately put-upon as Baptista. Ron Lisnet has a brief but memorable turn as Christopher Sly, star of the play’s deceptive framing device. The rest of the ensemble – made up of Sue Amero, Jesse Speed, Luke Storrmann, Blane Shaw, Angelina Buzzelli, Katrina Dresser, Ael Fitzgerald and Rebeclyn Parker - does yeoman’s work as well, bringing Padua to life.

Thanks to excellent direction and a hard-working cast, this “Shrew” shines. And really, the world could use a little taming right now.

Last modified on Thursday, 16 July 2020 13:27

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