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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” offers tubular 80s version of the Bard’s angry Valley Girl

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Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Published: 08/08/11

The 1980s are alive and well at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival this summer in director Tracy Young’s totally awesome take on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” which opened Saturday to a nearly full house.


Photo by Chris Butler of Idaho Statesman

Young, a seasoned director in her ISF debut, doesn’t just restage Shakespeare’s play, she reinvents it for a contemporary audience, making choices along with her actors — principally Sara M. Bruner (Katherine) and Jim Lischtscheidl (Petruchio) — that mitigate many of the play’s problems.

Young freshens the text with lively and freewheeling use of ’80s idioms injected into the dialogue. She has fun with place: Lucentio (Reggie Gowland) isn’t from Pisa, but from Portland (Oregon one assumes), Petruchio is from the wilds of Montana, and lunch is served in Santa Monica. Young also replaces the play’s stock characters with 1980s icons and stereotypes: Indiana Jones, Ivana Trump and Madonna.

The ensemble cast is dynamic, with a mix of actors and dancers in the crew. They create wonderful moments outside of the two main stories that give the production much flavor, such as the four dancing bridesmaids, Philip Michael Carroll’s rendition of Tom Cruise’s “Old Time Rock-n-Roll” from “Risky Business,” and Eduardo Placer’s turn as a 1980s era Prince.

Using the play’s roots in commedia dell’arte, Young creates a rich physical language of slapstick and gesture that helps the story along.

In one scene, Lischtscheidl holds Bruner upside down. As Kate hangs on for dear life, Petruchio says “Give me your hand Kate,” which she does, but only too late realizes the complete meaning of his statement.

Musically, Young and sound designer Peter John Still put together a soundtrack that’s an MTV-athon, with everything from Duran Duran to Bob Seger, Prince to The Human League. It’s worth eating in the theater to enjoy the pre-show tunes.

The heart of the play, and why it is so good, comes from Bruner and Lischtscheidl’s portrayals of Kate and Petruchio.

Bruner’s Katherine, who dresses in post-Annie Hall style, is smart, independent and angry at the world. She rejects everything about the coming “Material Girl” image of the decade, which her sister Bianca (the delightful Kjerstine Rose Anderson) embraces.

“Shrew” is still a problematic play because it uncomfortably brushes against our modern sense of equality. The idea that a husband must tame a woman to become his wife is abhorrent, yet in the world of the play, and in our own, becoming a spouse requires a major attitude adjustment.

Bruner adds layers to her Kate’s biting wit. She takes her time with Katherine’s final speech that admonishes Bianca, the Widow (Laura Perrotta), and the audience on how a wife should behave. Kate chooses her words carefully and with this thoughtful approach, it doesn’t come off that a woman’s place is obediently in the home as much as it is by the man she chooses to love. That wins her respect and Petruchio’s honest love, which Lischtscheidl expresses in a wonderfully romantic gesture that changes the tone of the ending.

Lischtscheidl’s Petruchio enters with less bravado and more uncertainty, giving him more humanity. He needs it because the play requires he also make adjustments. This is Lischtscheidl’s first season with ISF.

One of Young’s influences, the gritty drama “American Gigolo,” gives the play its setting in early 1980s Los Angeles, reflected in Michael Locher’s sleek industrial set. As locales change, we peek into windows to see fruit pop art, Patrick Nagel’s iconic prints of beautiful women, a cherry-red loveseat and other touches from the decade.

That’s one reason the play sits so well in the candied-pop, party-to-the-max world of 1980s Los Angeles. Call it the attitude adjustment decade.

Granted this play from the 16th century takes that adjustment to extremes, but the central questions still resonate: what does it takes to be in a real relationship, how much is it worth, and what will you sacrifice for it?

Alex Jaeger’s costumes are a hoot and hit the true style of the decade, referencing the best and beautifully worst of 80s fashion: Bianca’s “Like a Virgin” wedding gown, a delicious gold lame jumpsuit, and the tight, black dresses of Robert Palmer girls.

It’s all helped along by Rick Martin’s subtle and effective lighting.

Frankly, for those who lived through the decade, it’s a little creepy. None of the elements by themselves are exaggerated, yet all together they scream hilarity. Half the audience was asking, “Did we really look like that?” Ahem, yes.

“Shrew” also boasts the funniest Greenshow of the season: “The Shrewly-Wed Game,” in which a familiar Shakespearean couple tries to win a set of luggage. Yes, it’s a play on that 1960s iconic game show, but lest you think they got it wrong, remember the “New Newlywed Game” became a hit in 1984.

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read full article at Idaho Statesman