Photo by Debby Goldman.
BOTTOM LINE: A spotlessly performed ensemble production of Shakespeare’s comedy by a leading off off Broadway theatre company.
Now in its third season, Guerrilla Shakespeare Project is known for presenting shows at a caliber that sets them apart from their indie theatre contemporaries, and their current rendition of The Taming of the Shrew is a fine example why. Directed by Kim Martin-Cotten, GSP’s Shrew is a jocular jaunt through a very “now” Shakespeare with a lively cast of classically adept actors performing in the clothes and accoutrement of today.
One of the things to be counted on from GSP’s productions is an ingenious design using next to nothing. For example, without incorporating anything specifically period, the costumes of Shrew convey character and place, coming together as a complete picture. Similarly, the set is mainly a background of plywood boxes and frames, but that plywood creates a specific space, gives levels for staging, and shifts to form new settings as the characters travel. The highlight to me, though, is the use of an old lady's rolling walker for the character Gremio. Martin-Cotten is recognizing that this is a play and using that inherent imagination to further the magic and merriment. The world she creates is exquisitely makeshift chic.
And inhabiting that world are the people who make theatre worth watching: divas and dreamboats. And of course these good looking guys and ground shaking women are also true trained actors (after all, this company came to being with a group of Brown/Trinity graduate students). These are actors who have been educated emotionally, physically, and vocally and it shows in their intricate, distinct characterizations. For instance, Geordie Broadwater’s portrayal of Tranio slips between class statuses and therefore in and out of dulcet speech. Tom Schwans physicalizes an array of characters from an arrogant machismo to a toddering old fool. And one of my favorite New York actresses, Ginger Eckert, heads the cast as Katherine and delivers yet another riveting, energized, and engrossing performance. There is not an actor on the Medicine Show stage who is not fully invested and involved for the entirely of the performance.
Shrew also contains a great deal of combat. The fights are executed flawlessly and these very important (often slapstick) brawls were obviously given great importance and care in rehearsal. The fight director is not credited, but he or she should step forward and take a bow, because some of the fight sequences are so beautifully choreographed they could have been dances.
The one drawback for me is the script itself. In the same way that the blatant anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice gets under my skin, I find it uncomfortable to watch Shrew with a modern-day mind. I realize that it’s a comedy and it’s centuries removed from its time, but somewhere in the middle I always find myself thinking, “I’m watching an abusive relationship right now, but from the opposite sympathy.” In this play, a woman is forced to marry someone she doesn’t want to, who then starves her and deprives her of sleep, and once she has fully capitulated and becomes utterly subordinate to him, it’s happily ever after. And we’re supposed to cheer for his success in taming this “shrew.” Shakespeare, you’re a genius, but ick!
Nonetheless, this is a phenomenal presentation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. The staging, performances, and design all come together exceptionally well. If you are a fan of Shakespeare, comedy, slapstick, or just love a great lady lead, drop by the Medicine Show Theatre before April third. Once again, Guerrilla Shakespeare Project has reminded us why Shakespeare is still worth doing.
(The Taming of the Shrew plays at the Medicine Show Theatre, 549 W. 52nd Street, 3rd Floor between 10th and 11th Avenues through April 3, 2011. Performaces are Thursdays at 7:30PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $18. Visit smarttix.com to purchase tickets. For more info visit guerrillashakespeare.com.)