If you look closely at the program, you’ll get a hint at what’s to come with Spokane Civic Theatre’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Under “Setting,” it says “Padua, back in the day.”
While the language is as Shakespeare wrote, director/scenic and lighting designer David Baker has added a modern touch to the Shakespeare comedy with updated costumes and more attitude than the Bard could’ve imagined.
The wardrobe team – Jan Wanless, Ava Berg and Dee Finan – deserve a special shoutout for their role in removing the stuffiness ruffled collars (of which there are very few in this production) can bring to a play.
The first characters we see are wearing a blue velvet jacket (Bryan D. Durbin as Hortensio) and suit of bright red and a matching hat (Matt Cardoza as Gremio).
Then there’s Tranio (a hilarious Michael Barfield), wearing a denim jacket and baseball cap, and the energetic Denny Pham as Biondello, wearing a plaid hat and pants in Easter egg-worthy pastels, complete with pink tennis shoes.
Both Barfield and Pham play their goofy servant roles to a T.
As the plot of “The Taming of the Shrew” revolves around Petruchio’s attempt to “tame” the assertive Katherina so her younger sister Bianca can be wed, it makes sense that Civic’s Katherina is clad in a leather jacket, form-fitting red dress and heels, as opposed to Bianca’s more modest dress and leggings.
Dana Sammond is perfect as Katherina, giving anyone who crosses her a stare that threatens to burn holes through them; Skyler Moeder’s mild-mannered Bianca acts as a great foil.
The pièce de résistance as far as outrageous costumes go is Petruchio’s suit (worn by standout performer Seneca Smith), a mix of both black and white patterns and blocks of color. Smith’s outfit becomes even more ridiculous in Act Two.
The costumes weren’t the only things that brought a modern feel to the production, as each actor added little touches to their character that brought them to life.
Barfield’s hoitytoity voice when disguised as Lucentio (so the real Lucentio – in a strong performance from Justin McNiff – could woo Bianca ) is hilarious. It’s made even more so by Barfield’s new costume - an oversized suit jacket and captain’s hat.
Several characters, mostly Lucentio and Petruchio’s servant Grumio (a great Lauralynn “LuLu” Stafford), sit with the audience at various points throughout the show, often giving the person next to them a “Did you see what just happened?” kind of nudge.
Even the precise way Blake King-Krueger, who played the tailor and an officer and was a member of the backstage crew, folded a receipt after being proven right about a dress order added personality to his character.
And Petruchio’s exclamations of “Whaaat?!” and “Good Lawd!” were a great choice by Smith.
The amount of physical humor in “The Taming of the Shrew” also made Civic’s version unlike the typical Shakespeare production.
Katherina sits on Bianca near the beginning of the show, and Petruchio pushes around Grumio throughout.
The highlight though is the tag-team WWE-style fighting scene (Durbin also worked as fight captain) in Act Two, complete with a three-count from a “referee.”
Smith and Sammond are fantastic as Petruchio and Katherina, trading quips at a rapid clip, Moeder’s Bianca and McNiff’s Lucentio make for a cute couple, and Preston Loomer is great as Katherina and Bianca’s exasperated father Baptista.
The set was sparsely decorated, with just four benches, two doors, some gold decor and, in the second act, a table and chairs; the cast makes the small space feel much bigger.
As noted in the program, many have issues with the play’s “chauvinistic” plot line, even with the title itself.
The cast and crew note they’ve “chosen to embrace the fun that (they) think Will intended when he wrote this play.”
In doing so, Katherina’s assertiveness remains until nearly the end of the play.
At one point, for example, Petruchio tells Katherina to admire the moon, which is actually the sun. When Katherina corrects him, Petruchio essentially tells Katherina that what he says goes.
In a choose-your-battles moment, Katherina sighs and relents, telling Petruchio that she’ll call it whatever he wants her to.
Yes, Katherina’s speech about how women should honor their husbands at the end of the play seems ridiculous to hear in this day and age, but at this point in the show, the relationship between Katherina and Petruchio seems to almost resemble a team, rather than a taming.
When done poorly, “The Taming of the Shrew,” meant to be humorous, can feel drab and dull. But under Baker’s guidance, the talented cast succeeds in adding color and personality to the Shakespeare classic.
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