By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief
Oh, Bard on the Beach. How I love you. Setting a Shakespearean comedy to the absurd Spaghetti Western genre was a hilarious and brilliant artistic direction. I find that comedies are prone to age poorlBay since the jokes get lost over time, but this show was genuinely hilarious. Everything from The Taming of the Shrew’s costumes (Mara Gottler) to the set (Cory Sincennes) and the godawful country music played before and after the show and at the intermission sold me on this strange world. There was even square dancing during the curtain call.
I also appreciated a note in the program acknowledging that “in the burgeoning American West, there are many stories we could tell about persons, and diverse communities, who were pushed aside. This is only one story, of one woman.” As fun as certain elements of the Western genre can be, they rest on an inherently colonial and racist premise and history. Director Lois Anderson was keenly aware of this as she chose this setting for the story of a woman who didn’t want to comply in a world where rebelliousness is only valued in able white men.
The plot of the play is straightforward, if not… well, icky. This rich widow refuses to allow her beautiful and beloved daughter Bianca to marry until she can a husband for her eldest daughter, the loud-mouthed and rebellious Katherine (Kate). The man who finally agrees to marry Kate, named Petruchio, is broke and after her dowry.
Petruchio then basically engages in psychological warfare against his new wife to “break her in.” The play ends with Petruchio winning an elaborate bet about who has the most obedient wife at a large banquet. Katherine’s transformation, or taming, marks this comedy’s happily ever after. Yeah…
That’s how it normally goes, unless you’re Lois Anderson. In that case, you set The Taming of the Shrew in the wild West and give everybody multiple guns and cowboy hats. Anderson transforms the final “contest” into a good old fashioned heist, orchestrated by Katherine and Petruchio to empty the pockets of everyone at the banquet. The play ends with Katherine, played by Jennifer Lines, ripping off the stolen garment she paraded around as the perfect wife in, shooting down two chandeliers, grabbing the money, and dragging her husband out of the theatre.
Anderson’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew works because she sets it in a believable and appropriately chosen world, using tropes that the entire audience was familiar with to spin Shakespeare’s work on its head. Does Kate change over the course of the play? Yes. But, instead of shedding her alleged shrew-ness, she just finds a compatible pain in the ass, Petruchio, to become her partner.
Jennifer Lines’ incredibly energetic performance as Katherine is also so, so important to hammer home this retelling because she does not make Kate likeable. She plays Kate as the character is: aggressive and impatient. But Lines so expertly conveys the character’s depth and completeness to show that, hey, she doesn’t have to be likeable, because she’s real. And real people don’t exist to be liked; we’re just here to be messy.
And that, I think, is why the crowd cheered so loudly when Kate ends the play riding off into the sunset.
The Taming of the Shrew runs from June 5 — September 21 at Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park, on the BMO mainstage. Students are eligible for $26 tickets. Warnings for the show include multiple gunshot sounds, sometimes with warnings and sometimes without, and water-based haze to simulate fog. Because of the Western theme, alcohol and drinking is also a big motif in the play.