Thursday, February 11, 2016

Taming of the Shrew—Battle Ground Drama Club—Battle Ground, WA

“The Roaring Twenties”

One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies is being directed by Stephan “Cash” Henry in The Lair at Battle Ground High School, 300 W. Main St., through February 20th at 7 pm.  For more information, go to their site https://www.facebook.com/BattleGroundDramaClub/?fref=ts

In Henry’s notes he quotes the Bard, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  Very accurate statement but, in considering the times he wrote, it was a lot rockier road for women than men.  They often were given (sold?) in marriage to a wealthy landowner, in which a handsome dowry was included.  In some countries that custom is still practiced.  In fact, a perfect setting for this play might be modern- day North Africa were women are suppressed a great deal more than Kate and her ilk.

There is no getting around the message of the play, that women’s roles are to be obedient and submissive to their mates.  But the freedom exhibited in the 1920’s at least gives them room to breathe.  The Bard’s writings are often transposed to other eras, which is fitting, as that none of his stories are original but taken from tales of other countries.  One thing that is particularly appealing about this show, is that it is very accessible and done in a “conversational” style, so is easy to understand.

And now, to be transported back, not a few thousand years but less than a hundred.  It seems that a rich landowner, Baptista (Justin Kunkel) has two daughters he wishes to marry off, Kate (Sammy Carroll) and Bianca (Jamie Allen), to increase his holdings.  It is customary that the eldest (Kate) must be married off first but, because of her temperament, she has no suitors.  Bianca, on the other hand, has many.  There is the foppish, Hortensio (Brendan Groat), the oily, Gremio (Andre Roy) and a new arrival in town, Lucentio (Skyler Denfeld), sent here to study.

They, of course, in turn, have their assorted servants, who are usually pictured as wiser than their masters.  The clever, Trainia (Cassidy Macadam) and the slow-witted, Biondello (Ben Howard), are assigned to Lucentio.  Into this mix we add the devil-may-care, Petruchio (Jack Harvison), who agrees to woo, Kate (for a fee, of course) and his petulant servant, Grumio (Ceili O’Donnell).  Half of the play deals with the many guises and tricks the men are willing to do to “win” their ladies and, once won, the attempt to “tame” them.

It would be too complicated to try to explain the story because of the many twists and turns.  But, during the course of it, we shall meet Petruchio’s flighty house servants, Phillip (Joe Vaught), Josephina (Arial Stanton), Nichola (Madison Gardner), Nathaniel (Vanessa Gress), and Curtis (Mackenna Davis).  We shall also meet a proud Widow (Katie Beard), a weary merchant (Thomas Rismoen), an aging father, Vincentio (Jerrin King), a feisty Tailor (Louise Bredvig Larsen) and a frightened Hatmaker (Ethan Floyd).

It is amazing that, with the right Teacher and Director, even teens can speak the language of the Bard and make it understandable.  They all do well in this regard and most of the thanks must go to Henry for leading this troupe.  The set by Groat and Sundance Wilson Henry, as well as her costumes, add to the fun and frivolity of this era.  And the music and title cards help establish the period, too.  One thing I would have added was to make some attempt to disguise the actors when playing different characters, even a simple mask across the eyes would have suggested enough of a change to convince an audience.

As mentioned, all the actors spoke “the speech liltingly on the tongue.”  But there were some that were even a step above that in their approach to the roles.  Both Harvison and Carroll as the leads were good choices and exhibited the necessary fire the roles called for.  Denfeld, as the young lover, stood out in what could have been a “throw-away” role.  He has talent.  Howard shows some nice comic timing in his role.  Macadam shows a real flair for the dual roles she performs.  And O’Donnell, as the Chaplin-ese servant, has a real stage presence and is animated and focused in her performance.  Well done.

I recommend this show, as these teens deserve to be applauded for doing well in an art form that many adults cannot conquer.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.