Chicago Theatre Review
Turning the Shakespearean Tables
Shrewish – Artemisia Theatre Company
Accomplished, multitalented actress, director, theatre instructor and scholar, Barbara Zahora has taken one of William Shakespeare’s sauciest, most scintillating comedies and made it her own. The Bard’s play is a comedic look at the battle of the sexes that’s been going on since time began, but in this version Ms. Zahora has turned the tables on the genders. In keeping with this theatre company’s important mission to produce plays that empower women, Barbara casts Katherina, the titular Shrew in this adaptation, as a man. Interestingly he is the only man in the entire production, because all the male characters in this economical adaptation are played by one of five skilled actresses. From this switch, comes much of the humor, as well as a worthwhile message about gender politics.
Not always included in every production, Shakespeare originally framed his tale of Katherina and Petruchio as a play within a play. In the introduction, a rascally aristocrat takes advantage of an inebriated young man, convincing him that he’s not a common worker but a nobleman instead. As part of the spoof, a play is performed for the would-be gentleman. It’s about another nobleman and the courtship, marriage and the ultimate taming of his shrewish, unruly new wife.
In Ms. Zahora’s adaptation, Sly is a misogynistic, modern-day young man blatantly trying to hit on the girls at a bar. A group of five playful onlooking women unite to put the guy under a spell. They’re determined to teach this young stud an important lesson about being respectful to women. Several times throughout the evening, Sly, who has been turned into Katherina, stops the play-within-the-play to question what the heck’s going on. However, he always snaps back into the story, never fully comprehending that he’s been tricked by this coven of bewitching fairies. Thus he continues to willingly play the part of a Shrew about to be tamed.
Cast as the bar owner, who also doubles as Baptista and Grumio, Mary Ann De La Cruz is wonderful. This actress, who makes every Elizabethan syllable sound clear, understandable and contemporary, is the actor to whom audiences will find themselves drawn. She emerges as the real star of this production, and will hopefully be appearing in more upcoming productions. As Sly/Katherina, Dan Wilson plays the former character with the necessary machismo, while his Shrew is, by turns, cantankerous, confused and eventually contrite and courteous. Kudos to Ms. Zahora for not directing Wilson to play Kate too effeminately or like a drag queen. However watching the poor guy hobbling about the stage in high heels is pretty funny.
As Petruchio, India Gurley does a nice job playing a woman, who’s playing a man.The conceit is that Sly only sees the other women in this story as the gentlemen they’re portraying, despite employing only a suggestion of manly costuming. Ms. Gurley plays the domineering titular character as someone up to the task of taming a shrew; however, she is, of course, actually a gal turning the tables on a fella. Ultimately, by the end of the play, Petruchio charms her Katherina into loving her. Veronda G. Carey makes the most of her comic talents and deep voice when playing Gremio, a put-upon tailor, elderly suitor, Vincentio and, especially, a Widow, who sounds a lot like Eartha Kitt. Savanna Rae is at her best when portraying Bianca, but she gives Lucentio and Curtis her all. And Danielle Davis spreads her talents between playing a bar server, Hortensio, Biodello and a haggard Haberdasher.
While this adaptation is fascinating and often humorous, it might be more appealing for modern audiences with a few minutes cut from the script. This comedy might even play better as a longer one-act. However, Barbara Zahora’s adaptation is funny, moves smoothly through the well-known story and puts a contemporary spin on the original. It gently reminds us that there are certain men who need to be tamed, and not just their female counterparts. Turning the tables was never so much fun.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 4-20 by Artemisia Theatre Company at the Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, Chicago.
-Tickets are available at the Edge box office or by going to www.artemisiatheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.