Did Somebody Just Kidnap Petruchio?

Theatre Review: The Taming

By Perry Tannenbaum

Should I say the dog ate my homework? No, after returning home from assignment at the Savannah Music Festival, I plum forgot about The Taming amid the bustle of BOOM and Sensoria, and Opera Carolina’s U.S. premiere of Aleko. Even when I caught up with the latest from Donna Scott Productions at the Charlotte Art League this Wednesday, I was less vigilant than I should be.

I came into the funky South End gallery aware that there was a connect between Lauren Gunderson’s wacky political fantasia and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. But by intermission, I’d completely forgotten about tracking the parallels. That’s because the storylines are so different in this all-female script, and where there are parallels, Gunderson has totally flipped the script.

Katherine is no longer the clawing, curst hellcat who scares away every sensible man in the kingdom except the opportunistic Petruchio. Here she’s charming, brainy, and talented – so charming, brainy, and talented that she’s Miss Georgia, for crying out loud, on a trajectory to become our President and reframe our cherished Constitution. Goodbye, Electoral College!

Nor is she kidnapped after any shotgun wedding. Katherine is in control as she kidnaps Patricia, the brains behind a powerful GOP Senator, and Bianca, a leftwing one-cause blogger and provocateur. This latterday Kate has not only drugged the diametrically opposed politicos, she’s locked them inside of her hotel suite, and – most devastating of all – confiscated their cellphones! If she can get these Red State and Blue State zealots to pull in the same direction with her, Kate reasons, revolution is possible.

Both of these high-energy women remain equally obdurate, but if you pay more attention to their names than I did, you’ll divine that Patricia is our Petruchio. So when Katherine has to drug everybody to calm them the hell down – including, oops, herself – it’s Patricia who wakes up after intermission as James Madison during the original Constitutional Convention of 1787. Bianca is now South Carolina’s Charles Pinckney, the South’s chief proponent of slavery, and Kate is now George Washington, still gushing with charm and still urging compromise.

So yes, mea culpa. By the time the three women had conked out on ether and time-travelled to Philadelphia, birthing constitutional government while switching genders, I had long-forgotten The Taming of the Shrew. When the women returned to present day and Kate triumphed as Miss America, only then did Gunderson conk me over the head: for Patricia, acknowledging Katherine’s superiority, pretty much parrots the scolding that the “tamed” Kate delivers to the other newlyweds in Shakespeare’s Act V.

Now you can go to The Taming without having to backtrack like I did to decode it. Donna Scott makes a wonderfully infuriating Republican as Patricia, and Glynnis O’Donoghue, armed with her righteous pout, is equally apt as the deviously myopic liberal. No surprises there, but Katherine Drew, stunningly slick and sufficiently gorgeous as Kate, is completely new to me. Gunderson drops a couple of lesbian hints into her lines, so it’s a treat to see how excellently Drew personifies this gorgeous George.

All of this frothy comedy would run 79 minutes without the intermission, but director Tonya Bludsworth, who does so much so right, needs to take her foot off the accelerator. Not only did the frantic pace cause the normally infallible Scott and O’Donoghue to bobble lines in the third week of this production, the dialogue zoomed by so fast that I missed stuff. Superfast or not, there are plenty of goodies here, and Gunderson’s crosshairs are trained more on us than on the Bard.

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