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At first gentlemanly

The Taming of the Shrew at InnerMission Productions

Kate scorns and disobeys, Petruchio shouts insults and demands obedience
  • Kate scorns and disobeys, Petruchio shouts insults and demands obedience

What can someone do in times of war when captured and tortured by an enemy? How long before you crack? Or before you experience Stockholm syndrome — trust and affection for your captor?

Earlier in their season, InnerMission Productions staged Disappearing Act, about a Marine struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Their current production, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, harkens to similar ideas.

The Taming of the Shrew

Shrew follows Baptista, a wealthy merchant of Venice wishing to marry off his younger daughter Bianca to one of many suitors, but not before finding a husband for elder daughter Katherina. For as much as Bianca charms and obeys, Katherina, also known as Kate, scorns and disobeys.

Bianca’s suitors must find Kate a husband so they may be free to wed Bianca. They see a contender in Petruchio, a wealthy traveler who at first appears gentlemanly but later becomes brash and unkempt. Among the townspeople, shrewish Kate soon goes from derided to pitied.

Steve Froehlich captures bombastic Petruchio with power and personality. He scolds his servants and his new wife like a drill sergeant, loudly shouting insults and orders to demand their obedience, while also balancing moments of quiet satisfaction with tenderness and smiles.

Kym Pappas provides depth and pitifulness to Kate. She adeptly allows vulnerability to permeate Kate’s rough words, creating nuance in a character so easily one-note in anger. Pappas’s layers of depth complicate Kate in thought-provoking and troubling ways.

Joe Catellaw portrays the father, Baptista, and nails the character’s many jokes, sneaking in dry-witted one-liners. Alex Guzman plays the deceptive Lucent, and his wife Jamie Channell Guzman is Bianca, the younger daughter he is in love with and pursues relentlessly. Offstage love infuses onstage love with them to great affect.

Directed by Carla Nell, Inner Mission’s Shrew begins with a captivating video montage of decade-after-decade struggles between feminist progress and patriarchal repression, establishing the debate at hand over Kate. Sets by Michael McKeon and costumes by Alanna Serrano also establish a contemporary setting. Wall panels drop to become tables, for smooth transitions from one location to another.

Fourteen actors carry many characters with humor and conviction. Everyone understands their lines and what is happening in the story. Not only that, they get the humor. Nell successfully takes a big show with big ideas and makes it work in Diversionary’s compact space.

Most interestingly, women cast as men play women. So, Kira Vine as Gremio provides timely queerness to a multi-person pursuit of a young virgin. Also, Sophie Wood as Tranio incorporates romantic components to her character’s loving obedience.

Where superficial productions of this Shakespeare classic play for archetypes, InnerMission’s Shrew complicates these characters, leaving the audience to question: “Who is right, and who is wrong?” Is Petruchio a masochistic manipulator, a psychotherapist, or a rebranding master marketer? Does Kate play along? Has she lost her sense of independence, or has she been brainwashed? Can/should a shrew be tamed?

Playing through August 27

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