BWW Reviews: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW at Theater at Monmouth; These Talented Actors Cannot be Tamed
Disguises, mistaken identity, lies that beget other lies; these are the calling cards of modern television sitcoms, and farce on stage. But these conventions have been around long before the likes of Ken Ludwig's brand of farce or the inception of the moving picture. Shakespeare's comedies have long been a source of inspiration for burgeoning playwrights and screenwriters. Though written centuries ago his comedy still rings true in theatres the world over, and The Theater at Monmouth's cast of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW presents a veritable master class of comedic acting.
Shakespeare's SHREW itself has been the source of direct inspiration for some "recent" works. Kiss Me, Kate is a musical that features an acting troupe presenting SHREW as the show within the show. And the motion picture 10 Things I Hate About You is more than loosely based on the Bard's comedic masterpiece. So, why is this work so often presented or imitated? And, are it's chauvinistic undertones a little too ancient for a modern audience?
The director, Sally Wood speaks of this in her director's note: "What if THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is a real love story; a love story between two misfits? Do these two broken, deeply flawed human beings have what it takes to navigate their own booby trapped expertly constructed walls of defense to find love? Do they even deserve it? I call it a 'real' love story because it's ugly, painful and fraught with mistakes and missteps. The journey to love (and peace) is violent and passionate." She hits the nail on the head, I feel. Though perhaps unconventional, and a very Sam and Diane (from Cheers; you know, "I hate you. No, I hate YOU (cue kissing)) kind of love, everyone has a different path, and a different view of love and relationships. What works for one person may not work for another. And I think that is an interesting thing to watch in this piece.
Theater at Monmouth's SHREW is set in the late 1900's, and at show's opening we meet Baptista (Mark S. Cartier) and his two daughters: Bianca (Aislinn Kerchaert) and Kate (Ambien Mitchell), also known as the shrew herself. Also there are Hortensio (James Noel Hoban) and Gremio (Bill Van Horn) who mean to court Bianca. Just one problem: Baptista will not allow Bianca to marry until her older sister Kate does; and her disposition hasn't exactly been making the men flock to her at this point, shall we say. Enter Lucentio (Luke Couzens), his man servant Tranio (Alexander Harvey) and Biondello (Max Waszak). Lucentio falls immediately in love with Bianca at first site, and hatches a plan whereby Tranio will take on the identity of his master. Not long after, we meet Petruchio (Josh Carpenter) and his man servant Grumio (Mike Anthony). After learning of Kate's fiery reputation, he vows to court, marry and "tame" her. Thus, the suitors all enter into a bond to help each other achieve the love of their respective ladies. Rounding out the cast are Hannah Daly as the Tailor/Haberdasher, Simon Kiser as the Pendant (who takes on a disguise that only complicates things), Frank Omar as Vincentio (who further complicates the matter) and Grace Bauer as the Widow.
As with my last review for Theater at Monmouth (TAM) it is almost hard to single out the cast. I say that, full knowing that I will. But having said that, the cast is unbelievably strong and works together as a wonderfully cohesive ensemble. Almost more than the way they inhabit their character's strengths and peccadillos, the cast's most important accomplishment is the grasp they have on Shakespeare's language. Too often, modern audiences stray from seeing classical theatre (specifically William Shakespeare's work) because they "don't understand" the language. When an ensemble like this presents one of W.S.'s works, it is so clear and topical that you walk out of the theatre thinking in the Bard's language, much like you leave a musical humming a catchy tune. More than anything, THIS is why TAM's production is so strong; The cast's mastery of the language. If you are one of those audience members who refrain from Shakespeare's works due to it's seemingly foreign language, I STRONGLY recommend you watch this talented cast; it will change your mind immediately.
Leading the pack is none other than "Kate the Cursed" Ms. Ambien Mitchell. She embodies the role with such passion, fervor and tenacity you'd be reticent to woo her as well. Similarly, Josh Carpenter's Petruchio is a cocksure young man who will let nothing stop him from wooing this woman. He is relentless in his pursuit, and though his cockiness may seem a bit much at first, he delivers on each wager and promise. He's a delight to watch. The pair is extremely strong throughout, but perhaps strongest in their first meeting in the 1st act; complete with some fantastic fight choreography on, under and around a pool table.
Bill Van Horn as Gremio and James Noel Hoban's Hortensio are the one time friends turned competitors for Bianca's love. Both are hilarious and worthy of praise; though Mr. Hoban's strong portrayal and mastery of disguise are equally funny and touching as he loses his eventual love. Aislinn Kerchaert as the stunningly beautiful Bianca and her eventual husband Lucentio (Luke Couzens) are a delight, and it's Mr. Couzens' scheme to win her love that starts the play off. So convincing is his love for her, you follow each twist and turn with baited breath.
Not to be forgotten are the man servants, Tranio (Alexander Harvey), Biondello (Max Waszak) and Grumio (Mike Anthony). As though you need comic relief from the comedy you are already watching, these gentlemen deliver some of the best written lines in the piece with such comedic timing and skill that you'll have a hard time keeping your laughing from turning to tears. Especially funny is Mr. Anthony as he is often scolded by his master for doing exactly what was asked of him.
Kathleen Brown's costumes are lavish and leave no doubt of time or place, and add wonderful splashes of color to the red-hued set. Lynne Chase's lighting design is tasteful and never overdone, while establishing time and place and even time of day with unbelievable clarity.
Having seen TAM's presentations of KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW in consecutive weeks, I can easily say that no matter what show you choose to see in their true rep season, you will NOT be disappointed. The strength of the actors, fantastic choice of productions, and stunningly gorgeous theatre should be more than enough to get you in the door of historic Cumston Hall, home of the Theater at Monmouth. Get your tickets for any one of their fantastic productions, or more information at www.theateratmonmouth.org.
Pictured: Josh Carpenter as Petruchio and Ambien Mitchell as Kate
Photo by Aaron Flacke
From This Author Scott Moreau