The Taming Of The Shrew
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW by William Shakespeare (Driftwood). At various venues. Runs to August 14. Pwyc ($20 suggested). driftwoodtheatre.com. See listings, page 50. Rating: NNN
Harkening back to the travelling troupes of the early modern period, Driftwood Theatre’s annual summer Bard’s Bus Tour performs the noble feat of bringing outdoor Shakespeare to communities around Ontario that might not otherwise have access to professional theatre. This year they’re offering a risqué BDSM take on The Taming Of The Shrew (50 Shades Of Shrew?) that’s set in Toronto’s queer community at the end of the 1980s.
Due to the misogynistic politics at the heart of the original text, in which Petruchio breaks down Katherina’s resistance to his amorous advances, Shrew has proved a difficult show for contemporary directors and audiences (although Ted Witzel managed a great adaptation in High Park back in 2013).
Director D. Jeremy Smith recasts the competitive approach to love and sex within a wider discussion of consent, domination and rape culture that’s been brought to the fore by accusations against Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby. For the most part, it works.
The Toronto-centric update finds the bulk of the action taking place around Church and Wellesley the weekend of the Pride parade, with places like Hamilton and Newmarket earning repeated chuckles as stand-ins for the play’s provincial locales.
The romantic manoeuvring is peppered with recurring songs, a venerable jukebox of thematically relevant 80s pop hits (everything from Prince’s 1999 to Depeche Mode’s Master And Servant) sung a cappella by the cast and nicely reminiscent of local 80s heroes the Nylons. Another cool retro touch is the modular set pieces produced by rearranging colourful giant Tetris blocks.
The ensemble is strong, with Geoffrey Armour’s Petruchio standing out, especially when he initially tangles with Siobhan Richardson’s Kate. The dynamic between the two is explosive, and at first it’s hard to imagine that any “taming” could possibly take place. Fiona Sauder also deserves a nod for her turn as the gender-fluid Lucentio in the play’s identity-swap subplot.
At two hours and 45 minutes, the show feels a little long, and there are certainly scenes that could be cut or trimmed. That said, the production is polished, intriguing and entertaining, even if some of the flashy elements don’t feel totally integrated.
Geoffrey Armour (left) and Drew O’Hara add BDSM to the Bard.