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The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare, '80s pop hits and a big dollop of fabulous gay


by Drew Rowsome -
Photos by Dahlia Katz


The Taming of the Shrew (The Bard's Bus Tour) runs until Sun, August 14. Toronto performances run until Sun, July 24 at Withrow Park, 725 Logan Ave.
Other cities can be found at driftwoodtheatre.com

It is comforting to know that Shakespeare, '80s pop hits and sexual/gender non-conformity are eternal. Driftwood Theatre takes the problematic play The Taming of the Shrew and saturates it in '80s fashions and music, stirs in a helping of 50 Shades of Grey-lite, and explodes frenetic energy and crack comic timing to a stage in the round set under the stars. 

The ending of The Taming of the Shrew is difficult to swallow in 2016 - it was probably difficult to swallow when written which explains Shakespeare's superfluous framing device - and this production makes pains to explain that they are re-framing Petruchio and Katharine's relationship as a consensual one between a dominant and a submissive. It almost works, but what makes it almost work more effectively is an accapella rendition of Bonnie Tyler's epic "Total Eclipse of the Heart." As Noel Coward said, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." If we can buy into true love, however unlikely or forced, in a pop song that we all know by heart, we can transfer that emotion to Petruchio and Katherine. 

The music is integral and goes a long way to making Shakespeare comprehensible. Some of the text is sung to '80s tunes, inventive mash-ups push the scene changes along and offer commentary and even plot, and gains so much good will that the audience is putty in the play's hands whenever they recognize a song that is now part of our cultural heritage. Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" and Depeche Mode's "Master and Servant" are obvious but get a knowing laugh, Paolo Santalucia makes a spectacular entrance to Madonna's "Express Yourself," and mashing Parachute Club's "Rise Up" with "Fight the Power" and Shakespeare is just plain clever. 

The cast sings powerfully, has a complete mastery of Shakespearean dialogue, and has a great time with asides, anachronisms and gags that placate anyone lost at sea in Shakespeare's prose. Though only composed of seven actors, a galaxy of characters appear through the effective use of masks, distinguishing costumes and physicality, and one very endearing puppet. Geoffrey Armour is a sexy rogue of a Petruchio and Siobhan Richardson is a feisty Katharine - it is a battle of the sexes and they both come out on top. Fiona Sauder and Tahirih Vejdani generate real heat as circling lesbians and their curtain call kiss felt like the real climax of the play. Paolo Santalucia is a sexy strutting clown who garners more than his share of laughs with double-takes, sotto voce asides, and a mobile expressive face perched atop a shredded '80s style peek-a-boo shirt and skintight '80s white jeans.

Renee Hackett is saddled with narration and being the voice of unreason, but holds a regal center in the maelstrom surrounding her. But the most fun is had with Drew O'Hara who flings himself into sight gags, drag and the aforementioned puppet. Every time he left the stage, one could feel the anticipation and curiosity about what outrageousness he would appear in, and as, next. 

Director D Jeremy Smith does a good job of illuminating the actual text and has fun, maybe a bit too much, with setting the play in the specific context of Toronto in 1989 where two semi-innocents attend their first Pride. Lines like, "A mighty man of North York," "A good family of Hamilton," "Eaton's cushions and hangings from Holt Ren," and "I will to Yorkdale to buy a ring" all got big laughs. It is fabulous to see Pride flags, lesbian kisses and sexual ambiguity in the midst of a family-oriented production, especially considering all the unfortunate steps backwards the world is taking. And perhaps that explains the "almost" in solving the central problem, if it weren't dictated that this is a family friendly production, Petruchio and Katharine could have made their dom/sub relationship more explicit and clear. It's a tough choice, an adult-only night would be a must-see, but the delight in seeing children and families cheering a Pride flag, not-so subtle gay male cruising, drag and a lesbian relationship is a ray of sunshine in a darkening world.

And when a play, set in a public park and touring rural Ontario, starts with the shout of "Shakespeare was gay," the subversiveness laced into this highly entertaining production should be lauded. 

The Taming of the Shrew (The Bard's Bus Tour) runs until Sun, August 14. Toronto performances run until Sun, July 24 at Withrow Park, 725 Logan Ave.
Other cities can be found at driftwoodtheatre.com


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