Top-notch cast drives a vibrant, subversive new The Taming of the Shrew at Bard on the Beach
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Lois Anderson. A Bard on the Beach production. At the BMO Mainstage on Sunday, June 16. Continues until September 21
This adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew has three stars: lead actors Jennifer Lines (Kate) and Andrew McNee (Petruchio), and director Lois Anderson. This isn’t to say that Anderson’s direction is heavy-handed or intrusive; rather, her vision is so assured and her execution is so flawless, she provides a foundation upon which the entire cast seems inspired to bring its A game.
Building on Miles Potter’s 2007 western-style reimagining of The Taming of the Shrew at Bard on the Beach, Anderson sets her production in America in the 1870s, trims its running time, and snatches portions of Petruchio’s lines to give to Kate.
From the opening sequence, it’s Kate against the town as she’s mocked and derided, people yelling “Shrew, shrew, shrew” at her until she comes back with a gun and shoots up the place. This is a woman ahead of her time, who has no say in her own life, and is frustrated and infuriated by the expectations and confines placed upon her by society. When her younger sister, Bianca (Kate Besworth), starts stockpiling suitors, their wealthy widowed mother (Susinn McFarlen) institutes a rule: Bianca may marry once Kate does. Bianca’s suitors conspire to find Kate a husband when Petruchio, a difficult man in his own right, rolls into town looking for a rich wife.
Lines and McNee do some of their best work ever as Kate and Petruchio meet, spar (verbally and physically), and eventually fall in love. We see from the outset that Petruchio really is smitten with Kate, and through Anderson’s direction, we witness him secretly observe the way the townspeople treat Kate. He sees her. When Kate finally feels that recognition, she kisses him for the first time, and Lines does a wonderful job communicating a lifetime of yearning into that moment. McNee plays up Petruchio’s stunned, breathless arousal for momentary laughs, and then kisses her right back with just as much hunger and yearning.
The cast is excellent and engaged, and there’s a vibrancy and purpose in even the smallest, silliest jokes, such as the messenger arriving on horseback. We hear the galloping and see the actors follow his imagined arrival across the horizon, heads turning in unison, and then the messenger running at incredible speed onto the stage, running off, only to gallop away again, actors “watching” him go back across the horizon. It’s hilarious and ridiculous, but it works thanks to the actors, Anderson, and sound designer Malcolm Dow.
The final scene is an utter delight, and not just because we see Kate and Petruchio join forces to get their revenge on the townspeople and the family that treated Kate so poorly. It’s also because of how perfectly that final scene fits into its western theme—an old-fashioned holdup that’s also a metaphorical holdup of sexism—and the ways in which Anderson uses that to subvert gendered notions of outlaws, gunslingers, femininity, and, of course, shrews.