This week, I had a chance to catch the Prenzie Players’ The Taming of the Shrew. And, I have to say, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had with William Shakespeare.
The story is a battle of the sexes, with suitors chasing Bianca, but not allowed to take her hand until her older sister, Katherine, is married. The problem? Katherine is a head strong, sharp-tongued woman — an untamed shrew. In comes Petruchio, who sets upon the task to win Katherine over, shaping her into the model wife.
The Prenzie Players set the show in a bar, with the audience sitting at the bars tables. The stage is the entire room, with the audience, as bar patrons, watching the play within a play unfold. The actors walk amongst the tables, interacting with the audience. In fact, the asides so common to Shakespeare are spoken directly to individuals in the audience, which seems so much more affective. And, they ad lib. Ad-libbed Shakespeare? God save us! But, it works.
As for the cast, this may be the best collection of truly exceptional actors I’ve ever seen in the Quad Cities. Few stand out, as almost the entire cast plays at the same level of greatness. I have to admit, it’s been years since I’ve seen or studied Shakespeare, so it took me all of the first act to get accustomed to the language. But, that didn’t diminish my enjoyment. I didn’t always understand what the actors were saying, but they did, speaking in the language of Shakespeare as if it were their native tongue. Thus, they are able to speak with appropriate inflection and body language, which conveys the meaning even if the words themselves are not understood.
The cast truly is incredible, but if I had to pick some standouts, they would be Chris Moore as Petruchio and J.C. Luxton as his servant, Grumio. While the entire cast speaks with the full knowledge of the meaning of their words, these two are a bit above the rest, making the words their own and performing with authority and confidence. Truly impressive.
Maggie Woolley as Bianca and Jaci Entwistle as Baptista Minola also offer great performances, crafting full characters out of Shakespeare’s words.
Jake Walker is really amusing to watch as Gremio, offering many laughs through his characterization.
But, my favorite is Eddie Staver III, who plays Christopher Sly, a drunken character for whom the other cast is performing. He is a part of the audience, pulled into the play at a few points, and never drops his drunkenness. He’s truly impressive to watch. For me, his role was too small. I wanted to see more of him, truly in awe of his ability to maintain his character at all times.
And, I can’t neglect Dustin Oliver, who appears as a woman (wearing a bad wig). He may have the smallest role in the show, but I smiled every time I looked at him. From tossing his hair to chastising his husband for not watching the show, everything he did was subtle, not at all over the top, and just made me giggle!
The only cast member I would criticize negatively would be Beth Woolley, whose Katherine is angry… just angry… at least in Act One. The entire first act, whenever on stage, she stomps around the room and conveys only the emotion of anger or rage, with no nuances nor subtleys. She has an over-the-top anger, for which I could find no motivation. I think of the character of Katherine as sharp, witty, toying and haughty. Here, she’s just angry. Nothing but angry. However, Woolley’s performance much improves in the second act. I breathed a sigh of relief as I finally saw some subltey in her performance. She conveys several emotions, none of which were over the top. And, she delivers the longest monologue of the show, so it’s good that’s she more than just a ball of anger. After seeing her in Act Two, I know Woolley has the ability to offer more than just a one-dimensional character in Act One. If she matched the multi-dimensions of Act Two Katherine in Act One, she, too, I would list among the impressive.
As I said, this is the most fun I’ve had watching a performance of Shakespeare’s work. It’s the cast and the direction that make it so. This isn’t a performance for which a show was selected and then the cast found. This is a cast that wants to do this show. Their passion and respect for and love of Shakespeare’s material is very much apparent. And, that helps the audience. Even if you don’t understand what’s going on, you’ll still have a great time.
Posted: March 6th, 2008 under Theater.