BWW Review: TAME. at WSC Avant Bard

BWW Review: TAME. at WSC Avant Bard
(From left:) Jill Tighe (Cathryn),
Karen Lange (Mama).
DJ Corey Photography.

I'm pretty torn. I didn't enjoy TAME., written by Jonelle Walker, but I also don't think I think I was supposed to enjoy it.

I was frustrated during the entire play, produced by WSC Avant Bard. There was not a moment where I was not exasperated. As director Angela Kay Pirko explained in her director's note, the first time she read the script of TAME. she was overwhelmed by fury.

TAME. is a re-creation of William Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and stars Jill Tighe as Cathryn or Cat. With heavy inspiration from the life of Sylvia Plath, Cat is a poet cast aside by her family as a crazy shrew after a traumatic event in college.

On the one hand, I can appreciate Walker's and Pirko's vision for this piece. They are re-claiming the stories of women who instead of being given a voice, were shut down and called hysterical. Walker has created a rich story dealing with mental health, sexual and gender norms and abuse. Leaving the play, I did not view Cat as a shrew or insane. I did see her as a real person.

On the other hand, as a character Cathryn is just unlikable and mean. From my understanding, this attitude was not a result of the tragic event. It is a lifelong character trait. Pirko notes that for her Cathryn is "bristling, brilliant, biting and brooding- unapologetically herself." These traits are fine and great, but unfortunately these traits as positive attributes just felt negative to me because of Cathryn's unrelenting harshness. For me to agree with Pirko, I needed Cathryn to have a likeable moment. Tighe played Cat at a high emotional level the entire play. Frankly, it was exhausting to watch and perhaps exhausting for Tighe who sometimes seemed like she didn't have any more ideas on how to "play" angry. Perhaps this is what Walker wanted, but I feel the constant anger overshadowed some of the message that was truly being aimed for.

That said, the acting overall was well performed. Tighe embodied Cat with her irritating dialect choice to her physicality. She even managed to get a trembling jaw when she was particularly angry. The rest of the cast, Madeline Burrows as Bea, Brendan Edward Kennedy as Patrick, Karen Lange as Mama and John Stange as Daddy, were extraordinary. As an ensemble, everyone worked well together. Separately, each actor clearly knew and understood the aims of the director and playwright and brought their own understandings of the play as well. It was interesting to see the different personalities on stage and how they reacted to Cat.

Eric McMorris, set designer, also did a fine job in bringing meaning to the scene. Perhaps to many audience members it was just a 1950s kitchen, well decorated and designed for the times. To me, it felt like a prison. Whether or not this was intentional, it seemed like a space in which all of the actors were too big for it. It was this trap, this life, the characters understandings of one another, they were never going to escape.

Despite my frustration with TAME. it is certainly one of the more interesting and dynamic plays I have seen in a while. Even though I felt Cat was at too much of an emotional high, which made it hard for me to sympathize with her problems. This play still made me react, think and made me glad, although still not perfect, that I live in Washington DC area in 2016.

TAME. is at Gunston Arts Center through December 11. Runtime is about 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission. For tickets, visit avantbard.org.

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From This Author Hannah Menchhoff

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