With the spring/summer wedding season in full swing, it may prove instructive for couples at all stages of togetherness (dating, engaged, freshly married, seven-year-itch, better-get-a-lawyer, not-counting-the-anniversaries-anymore) to skip down to Stratford and take in one of the strangest betrothals of all time.
You can use your GPS to locate the Festival Theatre but once inside you’ll have to use your own wits, intuition and “experience” to make sense of this multilayered, “multiplay” depiction of how Petruchio (Evan Buliung hits his stride, offering a first-rate view into the character of one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating leads) most surely tames his ill-tempered wife with copious helpings of tough love that are based on a huge overdose of Katherina’s (Irene Poole makes the most of her storied transformation from man-eater to suppliant to “my lord”) caustic, petulant medicine.
At the risk of being tarred and feathered, the script seems a tad light on establishing just how “shrewy” Kate is. She does demonstrate an acid tongue in the early going (“Asses are made to bear and so are you.”) and others anecdotally reinforce her industrial-strength nastiness (“Her name is Katherina Minola, Renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue.”), but by the time Petruchio begins his “training” sessions, his remedies seem far, far worse than the demonstrated crimes.
His first entrance after the nuptials pulls no punches: “You peasant swain, you whoreson, malthorse drudge,”—and that’s just to Grumio (Lucy Peacock in prime form throughout). Soon he spreads his scorn to all in earshot and mocks his beleaguered wife’s fashion sense. He doth bully too much, methinks.
Nuff said: the plays are the things.
In the Induction, Ins Choi does a marvellous job as the besotted, bewildered Christopher Sly. His conniving Queen Elizabeth is rendered with regal aplomb by Barbara Fulton, ably assisted and abetted by Victor Ertmanis (dual roles as Second Huntsman and Vincentio). Sly is tricked into believing he has his own royal jelly and has just awakened from a “fifteen years” long sleep. The joke only gets better when his patiently waiting bride, Bartholomew (Aidan deSalaiz does drag with quiet style) is introduced, and so to bed!
Soon the reclining couple is being presented with an entertainment that is a bit more than just the “play-within-the-play.” The glue between the two storylines is wanton manipulation.
For Sly, his chronic alcoholism makes him the butt of royal humour: funny on the superficial outside (don’t all drunks deserve to be mocked?) but sadly vindictive a layer below.
Similarly, Katherina’s repulsive demeanour and its brutal exorcism makes for many merry moments, but fails to explore the back-story as to how she became so ill-tempered in the first place. And her husband’s tough love is just one giggle after another to the vast majority of patrons. Her father, Baptista (Stephen Ouimette as wily as needs be) has decreed that younger daughter Bianca (Adrienne Gould) cannot marry until Kate has tied her own knot. Accordingly, Petruchio’s unexpected determination to marry and reform the potential spinster is cheered on mightily by Bianca’s stable of wooers: Lucentio (Jeff Lillico), Gremio (Juan Chioran) and Hortensio (Randy Hughson). Mirroring the Queen, Petruchio pushes his hapless bride into docile submission and gets his way. How just like a man!
But the shot du jour, courtesy of Peter Hinton’s savvy attention to detail, comes as Bartholomew seductively slips off his wig and gives his sobering husband a look that speaks volumes and, hopefully, a happy end after being the sport of queens. JWR