Rebecca Patterson’s dedication to “providing performance opportunities for underserved women actors” is a worthy endeavor, and, as artistic director of The Queen’s Company, Patterson pursues this goal with passion and commitment. Patterson’s current all-female production of “The Taming of The Shrew” is creative and original; it is also flawed.
With the exception of Beverley Prentice, who delivers a first-rate performance as Hortensio, the women who play men in this production appear self-conscious about playing the opposite gender. The extent to which these actresses focus on executing masculine physicality is so great that they fail to play the truth of each moment; they instead rely on indicating and on poorly implemented shtick to get them through much of the show.
Carey Urban as Kate is unconvincing. Her anger and physical aggression do not appear to come from a real, deep-seated place. As a result, her interactions with fellow cast members feel stale and inconsequential. The fact that Urban is costumed in a white dress only adds to the problem: Kate is one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated characters because she is a force to be reckoned with. Sarah Iams’s choice to have the character garbed in white, a color often associated with innocence and purity, undermines Kate’s power and haughty bravado.
Ms. Urban’s shallow and frivolous portrayal of Kate lacks a sense of urgency, thus making it difficult for the audience to empathize with her. Urban makes murky choices, especially when it comes to Petruchio, which inauspiciously inform her performance. Likewise, Samarra, who only goes by the one name, gives an ineffective performance as Petruchio. The fury and aggression that Samarra broadcasts are showy and artificial. Samarra fails to pose a real threat as Petruchio, while Ms. Urban fails to be a force to be tamed. Neither actress seems to scratch the surface of their respective roles. Indeed, Kate’s transformation from a rambunctious rebel to an obedient wife is skimmed over. Instead of exploring Kate’s inner struggle, Patterson does the work for Ms. Urban, employing a cheap gimmick--a dream sequence--to demonstrate Kate’s conversion, thus letting Ms. Urban conveniently off the hook.
Some of Urban’s difficultly in rendering a realistic portrait of the fiery Kate may be attributed to the fact that Bianca is played by a blow-up doll. Having a doll replace a living, breathing actress eliminates the possibility of a real relationship between Kate and her sibling, Bianca. Equally eliminated is the antagonism inherent in the sisterly bond. In Shakespeare’s full text, there are allusions that Bianca is perpetually favored over Kate, which some interpret to be the source of Kate’s blistering anger. This would have been an interesting concept for Urban to consider; it might have infused her character with some real humanity.
Shakespeare’s Bianca seems to be a character with little agency, subject to the whims of everyone else in the play. Patterson’s idea of translating the textual to the theatrical through the use of a doll is interesting. However, dramatically, it does not work. The doll is distracting and does the cast a disservice. In the wedding between Lucentio (played by Amy Driesler) and Bianca, Driesler valiantly tries to make the lovers’ union believable. Yet, for all her efforts, watching Driesler canoodle with a rubber doll is embarrassingly absurd. Another perhaps more successful approach to dramatizing Bianca’s plight could have involved an actress taking on the physicality and mechanical movements of a doll. This could have prevented many of the production’s problems, while remaining true to Patterson’s vision, and employing another actress in the process.
Presented by the Queen's Company
at Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, NYC
Nov. 5-20. Mon. and Wed-Sat. 7:30pm; Sun, 3pm
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.