Petruchio (John Murphy), Baptista (Bernard Cuffling), Kate (Lois Anderson)

Bard on the Beach opened its 23rd season last night with The Taming of the Shrew. Although this play has made its way to two earlier Bard seasons (over the past 10 years), this was my first time seeing the brilliant, well-rounded cast perform the Shakespeare comic romance.

The basic storyline is a tale of two sisters: the younger one with many suitors; the other, older, more brash and outspoken. Their father, Baptista (Bernard Cuffling) will only allow the younger, more favoured Bianca to wed if her older sister Kate (brilliantly performed by Lois Anderson) marries first.

Enter fortune-seeking Petruchio (John Murphy), who isn’t that particular when it comes to choosing a bride, as long as the money will follow. He’s come from Verona to “wive it wealthy in Padua”; whether or not Kate fancies him is of no concern to his equally prickly character.

Lucentio (Anton Lipovetsky), Bianca (Dawn Petten)
[Anton Lipovetsky, Dawn Petten]

Bianca meanwhile has several suitors vying for her affection, but she’s got her heart set on one, Lucentio (Anton Lipovetsky). Tranio (Kyle Rideout) decides to disguise himself as his master (Lucentio) in hopes of wooing Bianca for himself, becoming a tutor for the occasion.

A wedding is hastily arranged for Kate and Petruchio, with Kate in great disagreement (bordering on hatred for boorish suitor). Gremio (Shawn Macdonald) enters the scene, an older, wealthy gentleman who offers a large dowry, however it’s Lucentio (Tranio, disguised as a tutor) who ‘outbids’ him. Tranio sets off to find someone to pose as Lucentio’s father, Vincentio. Following along?

Gremio (Shawn Macdonald), Tranio (Kyle Rideout), Lucentio (Anton Lipovetsky)
[Shawn Macdonald, Kyle Rideout, Anton Lipovetsky]

Things get crazy after Kate and Petruchio settle into married life.

Kate (Lois Anderson), Petruchio (John Murphy)
[Lois Anderson, John Murphy]

Petruchio aims to tame his wife, denying her of food and sleep, in the name of undying love. Although it’s hard to watch Kate endure the often riotous scenes on stage, their relationship does take a turn along the way. Kate becomes ‘tamed’ but the love between these two outcasts outshines any in Italy.

In fact, the most difficult speech is given towards the end by Kate, who has become obedient to the point of disgusting the other wives. It’s misogynistic to a degree for sure, but Kate and Lucentio’s love heightens the play at its close.

John Murphy and Lois Anderson have marvelous chemistry as the two key roles in this production. The cast is lively and integrates well together under the direction of Meg Roe (All the Way Home). The set (designed by Kevin McAllister) is simple, with props brought onto the stage (and taken down) by several cast members. I love the Italian style period costumes, with attention to colour and detail, that heighten both the performances and the atmospheric stage. Kudos to costume designer Mara Gottler.

Wonderful musical interludes (arranged by sound designer Patrick Pennefather) take place between scenes. The two hour production (with one 20 minute intermission) keeps the audience laughing throughout most of the evening. My appetite was whet for upcoming Macbeth while watching smaller roles played by Colleen Wheeler (Biondella) and Bob Frazer (Curtis, Petruchio’s chief servant at his country house).

Bianca (Dawn Petten) and Kate (Lois Anderson), Biondella (Colleen Wheeler), Baptista (Bernard Cuffling)
[Bianca (Dawn Petten) and Kate (Lois Anderson). Back: Biondella (Colleen Wheeler), Baptista (Bernard Cuffling)]

In fact, Wheeler gets to show off her comic prowess during a few scenes, bringing the audience to roaring laughter. Don’t miss this entertaining classic, on now through September 22 at the BMO Mainstage Theatre (Tuesdays through Sundays) in Vanier Park. Visit the Bard on the Beach website for schedules and ticket information.

Photos by David Blue.

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