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The Taming

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On platform: Katie Rubin, Tristan Cunningham, Monica Ho. Photo: Lori A. Cheung

So, here’s to you Mr. Madison

When the United States of America adopted its constitution in 1789, the Founding Fathers had been tasked to revise the Articles of Confederation of 1781, but rather, they created a fresh document, with James Madison leading the charge. With this context in mind, Lauren Gunderson’s uproarious fantasy, “The Taming,” explores the notion of constitutional reform as led by a Miss America beauty pageant contestant (whoops! new vernacular – make that scholarship candidate). The result is a zany entertainment with meaningful reflections on our historical and current political landscapes.

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Katie Rubin, Monica Ho, Tristan Cunningham. Photo: Lori A. Cheung

The premise is that Patricia, an aide to a conservative senator, and Bianca, a liberal animal rights blogger, awaken in a hotel room, only to find that they’ve been locked in and are unsure whether they had made love the night before. After the two exchange a barrage of gratuitous political insults and wanting glances, their captor appears in the person of the sparkling, pageant-bedecked, Katherine Chelsea Hartford, none other than Miss Georgia. Katherine wants to actually fulfill the beauty contestant blather about changing the world, and her quest starts right here.

Tristan Cunningham is a delight as Katherine. She imbues the beauty with charisma and blithe optimism that is infectious. She sashays and springs around the stage with a seeming mindless confidence. Her prisoners are stupefied by this driven whirlwind. Katie Rubin is frenetic as Patricia – totally dedicated to her senator and feeling that she is the real brains and power behind the office holder. Rubin adept at the tightly-wound portrayal. Monica Ho is equally convincing as another true believer in her quest, and equally immune from reason and compromise. Her internal conflict is which liberal objectives should take precedence, for instance, local or organic food. The two hurl invectives at each other with regrettable sobriquets of our time – “red state” and “blue state.” Katherine’s task is to bring these two together as the start of a new political dawn. Ha!

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Monica Ho, Tristan Cunningham, Katie Rubin. Photo: Lori A. Cheung

The fantasy occurs at a scene change, when we find Cunningham transformed into James Madison, whom she humorously plays with shades of urban rapper affectation and gesticulation. Rubin is George Washington and Ho is southern slaver, Charles Pinkney. They are at the Constitutional Convention, and Madison is trying to affect compromise between constituencies, with little success because of Pinkney’s recalcitrance.

Madison also raises some of the issues that confront us today that result from the ambiguities and the time bound nature of the document that failed to provide even the Bill of Rights, not to mention women’s voting or the abolition of slavery. He speaks to the audience, noting that “you can amend” and “we’re not gods.” In a clear attack on the modern misinterpretation of the Second Amendment, Madison asks, “what if we forget what militias are?” The parallels between the two time frames are palpable, and in the guise of fast moving, literate farce, Gunderson makes a good case for constitutional reform. Oh, did I mention that there may be some significance that the cast and modern characters are all female?  And, by the way, you’re on your own when it comes to interpreting the meaning of the title.

The outdoor venue at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre opens up the production, which might otherwise have the claustrophobic feel of small rooms. Director Robert Currier integrates elements that make you forget it’s a three speaking part play. The set is basic, though functional and augmented by props. But the fillip of the stage is the upper catwalk which increases the visual perimeter considerably. An ensemble of six women are costumed and choreographed to good effect throughout as the likes of beauty contestants, human flags, and Secret Service agents.

“The Taming” by Lauren Gunderson plays at Marin Shakespeare Company, 890 Belle Avenue, San Rafael, through July 17, 2016.

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