Theater at Monmouth's 'Shrew' shines
by Andi Parkinson
When Scott Moreau wrote in his review of Theater of Monmouth’s “The Taming of the Shrew” of “those audience members who refrain from Shakespeare’s works due to its seemingly foreign language”, he well could have been describing me in years past- works of The Bard and I parted company as soon as high school was concluded and didn’t pick up again for decades.
Fast forward to my first TAM performance and the 2011′s summer season opener, “Much Ado About Nothing”. Adapted from the classic version and set in post WWII era and yet told in traditional 16th century Shakespearean language, it was the incredible skill of the ensemble in telling the tale that captivated the entire audience and me, as the intimidation barrier quickly faded and I found myself not only thoroughly enjoying the tale- but UNDERSTANDING it.
So after seeing the familiar names of TAM veteran actors Ambien Mitchell, Mark S. Cartier and Bill Van Horn (who were all magnificent in “Ado”) among the cast, it was with great anticipation that I went to last week’s opening of “The Taming of the Shrew” - and came away even more impressed than ever with the quality of their individual work, the ensemble as a whole and the incredible efforts made by all in transforming Cumston Hall once again into a place of magic and wonderful story telling, as the colorful and distinctive costuming by Kathleen Brown and lighting by Lynne Chase give a clear sense of time and place that enhance the tale well.
The play, directed by Sally Wood, is set in late 1800′s Italy and tells the tale of wealthy landowner and gentleman Baptista (Mark S. Cartier) of Padua with two very different daughters- the beautiful and friendly Bianca (Aislinn Kerchaert), who is greatly admired and surrounded with potential suitors for her hand- and her sister Caterina aka “Kate” or “Kate the Cursed”. The sisters are quickly established to be polar opposites in temperament, demeanor, conduct and behavior- where Bianca is gentle and the object of many a man’s affections, Kate is feared as her sharp tongue and quickness to physically harm anyone who crosses her- a reputation that is known far and wide. Yet Baptista will not allow for his younger daughter Bianca to be wooed or wed until her older sister has found a match- a prospect that pleases no one, especially Kate.
The bold, brash and confident Petruchio (Josh Carpenter) learns of Kate and decides that he will be the one to break through and “tame the shrew” (hence the title); she presents a difficult challenge and he embraces the opportunity to best and win her. Thus begins a clever and highly entertaining tale of complicated intersecting story lines, multiple identity switches and deceptions by not one but two “tutors” who are in actuality suitors for Bianca’s hand, Lucentio (Luke Couzens), a rich newcomer who switches identities with his manservant Tranio (Alexander Harvey) and Baptista’s neighbor Hortensio (James Noel Hoban, brilliant in the lead role of 2012′s hilarious “Tartuffe”), as well as another local, Gremio (Bill Van Horn).
A special shout-out must go to Petruchio’s long suffering man servant Grumio (Mike Anthony), who takes his role as the comedic foil and practically steals the scenes with his hilarious presence, timing and presentation- no easy feat with this high caliber cast!
A politically correct play? Not even slightly. On occasion, Petruchio’s calculated approach and treatment of Kate is nothing short of shocking, as he methodically goes about his pursuit of her, and reveals himself to be as deeply flawed as she. They are equally skilled in viciousness and cruelty towards those in their proximity, verbally and physically abusive, and unpredictable. Yet “Shrew” is a very real and compelling love story- ugly, messy and complicated, showing the intricate foibles of human relationships as the two eventually learn to trust, to be vulnerable, to fall deeply in love and learn to respect the roles of each other both within their society and their relationship with each other.
CAST (in order of appearance)
Lucentio: Luke Couzens
Tranio: Alexander Harvey
Baptista: Mark S. Cartier
Kate: Ambien Mitchell
Bianca: Aislinn Kerchaert
Gremio: Bill Van Horn
Hortensio: James Noel Hoban
Biondello: Max Waszak
Petruchio: Josh Carpenter
Grumio: Mike Anthony
Tailor/ Haberdasher: Hannah Daly
Pedant: Simon Kiser
Vincentio: Frank Omar
Widow: Grace Bauer