Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2016’

Witty Shakespeare offshoot needles politicos, bloggers

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★☆]

Imagine James Madison pondering Constitutional ambiguity and equal rights with horror.

“What if women became people? Or Italians?”

“The Taming,” an exceedingly funny play by self-proclaimed feminist Lauren Gunderson, tests that notion — and other 1787 and current political dicta — in a Marin Shakespeare Company production at the outdoor amphitheater of Dominican University in San Rafael.

I find her comedy a decidedly sane choice during a decidedly insane 2016 presidential year.

Katherine (Tristan Cunningham, right), Patricia (Katie Rubin, left) and Bianca (Monica Ho) comically war over politics in “The Taming.” Photo copyright Lori A. Cheung.

Katherine (Tristan Cunningham, right), Patricia (Katie Rubin, left) and Bianca (Monica Ho) comically war over politics in “The Taming.” Photo copyright Lori A. Cheung.

Gunderson changes Shakespeare’s abuse of a woman in “The Taming of the Shrew” to misuse of power in “The Taming.” And flip-flops the Bard’s creations, where men filled all the roles, to females playing the parts.

Yet her sparkling satirical offshoot actually gives only a passing nod to Willie.

She does reference a different brand of shrew by having bleeding-heart liberal blogger Bianca try — through blackmail — to quash a legislative bill that would kill off those animals.

But Gunderson’s much more interested in skewering and skewing politicians and online gossip-journalists.

“The Taming” is also way gay.

Should I have any doubts, Bianca inquires, “Is it just me or is everyone gay?”

Without blinking, fervently patriotic heroine Katherine and Patricia, the brains behind a sleaze-ball, right-wing senator, eagerly reply, “Everyone’s gay.”

Thumbs up1For a play centering on ancient Constitutional guarantees, it’s certainly peppered with topical references.

Bianca insists, for instance: “I’m an American and under 30 and I have the right to a phone.”

And Katherine, a beauty pageant finalist from Georgia who uses her position as a springboard for radical political activism, declares, “I am a vicious American woman and I’m not to be [messed] with.”

Katherine locks herself and Bianca in a hotel room with Patricia, a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Petruchio.

After tranquilizing them with a date-rape drug (“one of my talents is amateur pharmacology”).

Squabbling over the Constitution are (from left) Monica Ho as South Carolina Gov. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Tristan Cunningham as George Washington and Katie Rubin as James Madison. Photo copyright Lori A. Cheung.

Squabbling over the Constitution are (from left) Monica Ho as South Carolina Gov. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Tristan Cunningham as George Washington and Katie Rubin as James Madison. Photo copyright Lori A. Cheung.

She wants to repurpose the Founding Fathers’ historic document and — a desire even more dubious — wants the three of them to work in tandem.

Extreme views, vulgarity and sexuality run amok.

So my laughs erupted early — as soon as one character could find neither her pants nor her digital device.

My admiration for the actors came just as swiftly.

Tristan Cunningham was an absolute phenom as Katherine (and George Washington, plus cameos as his wife, Martha, and Dolly Madison).

Her brilliant, over-the-top antics — body, face and speech patterns — defied me to keep a straight face.

And her timing was as exquisite as that of a Patek Caliber 89 watch.

Katie Rubin’s Patricia (and James Madison) and Monica Ho’s Bianca (and South Carolina Gov. Charles Cotesworth Pinkney) weren’t far behind.

They, too, spouted Gunderson’s crisp, clever dialogue with acumen, talent and well-honed comedic chops.

Even when they were merely engaged in shouting matches, a pillow fight or dancing up a celebrative storm (in amazing, whimsically brash costumes fashioned by Tammy Berlin).

But they also lent gravitas to Gunderson’s more serious questions: whether slavery was an economic necessity, whether Thomas Jefferson fathered countless illegitimate children, whether the Electoral College was democratic.

I also feel a need to applaud the dance ensemble — Covi Brannan, Brooke Garfinkel, Lila Hood, Bethany Matthis-Montgomery, Jenny Singer and Shayna Maci Warner.

Sweet eye-candy.

And I’d certainly be remiss if I failed to cite the excellent direction of Robert Currier, troupe co-founder who’s been at the helm of more than 100 productions — and the contributions of his wife, Leslie Schisgall Currier, the second co-founder (who also initiated Shakespeare at San Quentin, which gives inmates a chance to study and act in classic plays).

“The Taming” didn’t send me to the original cast album of “Kiss Me, Kate,” Cole Porter’s cunning musical based on “Shrew” — or compel me to sing one of his most comical tunes, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

But it did steer me to almost two hours of enjoyment.

Gunderson, one of America’s most-produced playwrights, is now in a three-year residency at Marin Theatre Company.

She should do well there.

But it’s a shame her work isn’t faring better at Dominican.

The matinee I attended drew an unusually skimpy audience in an amphitheater that holds 600 — when the witty, fast-paced production absolutely merits a sold-out house.

“The Taming” will play at the outdoor Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University, 890 Belle Ave., San Rafael, through July 17. Night performances, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $10 to $35. Information: http://www.marinshakespeare.org or 415-499-4488.

Contact Woody Weingarten at voodee@sbcglobal.net or check out his blog at www.vitalitypress.com/

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