Now running in Bannerman Park on Sundays and Mondays, the Shakespeare by the Sea production of “The Taming of the Shrew” is noteworthy for featuring only a single male actor, Norm Karlik in the role of Christopher Sly, a tinker who becomes lord for a day.
All other parts, both male and female, are played by 11 actresses wearing stage blacks, accentuated with occasional bits and bobs of supplementary dress and ornament.
Disconcerting? A little, but then you recall that public theatrical performance in Shakespeare’s day was unisex, though all-male. So why not turn the tables to see what happens?
The set comprises five trunks, from which the women pluck supplementary costume items. Downstage left, lounging in a folding chair, is the temporarily ennobled tinker, who watches the action along with us.
The play recounts the story of the taming of independent and shrewish Katherine, strongly and cleanly played by luminous and self-possessed Sabrina Roberts, who is finally humiliated at the hands of her ruffian husband, Petruchio, a swaggering macho role confidently undertaken and performed by Alison Carr.
Played out before the transformed Christopher Sly, the tale becomes a play within a play, thereby framing the coerced transformation of Kate from wildcat to pussy-cat as “only a play,” a tactic that undermines, at least in part, censorious commentary labelling the play as misogynous.
A play’s a play for all that, you might retort.
A more conventional courtship parallels Petruchio’s wiving and thriving, that of Kate’s younger sister, daddy’s favourite, goodie-two-shoes, the sweetly manipulative Bianca, nicely played by Samantha Hussey, who elopes with her besotted suitor, Lucentio, played with panache by Aline Litt.
The tricked paterfamilias, Baptista Manola, is intelligently and convincingly rendered by Jean Graham.
And in delivery, characterization and interaction, Lucentio and his/her mustachioed sidekick — Heidy Coombs-Thorne in the role of ingenious Tranio — are extremely good.
Despite windy conditions on opening night, delivery and articulation were commendably clear, even if declamation crept in here and there.
And was there more direct audience address than strictly necessary? Perhaps. But the audience didn’t seem to mind.
Buffeted by wind
After a 15-minute intermission and cups of hot coffee, the cast returned to battle the persistent wind. I chickened out. Having been wind-buffeted for 80 minutes, I folded my chair and fled to the warmth of home, vowing to return on the morrow.
So, on Monday, I took in Part 2 — on an evening as still as cream. Christopher Sly still lounged in royal robe, female players with trilbies, neckties and penciled moustaches bustled about, the company chanted out directions for changes of scene and Kate delivered to cast and audience her final peroration on wifely obedience and submission — as commanded by her abusive husband.
Directed by festival artistic director Jennifer Deon, this unisex-minus-one rendering of “The Taming of the Shrew” continues until Aug. 11 on Sundays and Mondays in Bannerman Park, weather permitting, starting at 6 p.m.