by Deanna Darr
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of Taming of the Shrew may mark the first time the Bard’s work has included the terms “douchebag” and “don’t have a cow.”
Under the leadership of Tracy Young in her ISF directorial debut, the classic tale is ripped out of Padua, Italy, and dumped in the middle of 1980s Los Angeles, complete with all the ridiculousness of that time and place. From neon Spandex and popped collars to shoulder pads and big hair, the production is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to an era that those of us who lived through it are kind of glad is over.
The juxtaposition of ’80s trends and terms with the classic script is a bit jarring at first. The comedy has the air of farce as ’80s pop culture is laid out in an almost tribute to the decade of excess. But as the production progresses, it gains rhythm, especially with assistance from the iconic music of the era, which plays an integral role in helping to tell the story while creating a sense of nostalgia.
ISF veteran Sara M. Bruner takes the lead as Katherina, or Kate, the strong-willed daughter of a wealthy Hollywood resident. Her father has declared that no one will marry his Valley Girl-esque younger daughter Bianca (Kjerstine Rose Anderson) until Kate is married.
Lucentio (Reggie Gowland)–who is from a powerful Portland, Ore., family–arrives to see the wonders of Los Angeles, one of which turns out to be Bianca. He plans to win her heart by posing as a tutor. In the meantime, another of Bianca’s suitors, Hortensio (Eduardo Placer), talks his old friend Petruchio (Jim Lichtscheidl)–freshly arrived from Montana–into wedding the shrew with the promise of the riches that come with the union. Cue the hilarity.
ISF first-timer Lichtscheidl provides not only needed grounding but makes Petruchio a much more likeable character with more depth than the cock-sure, testosterone-poisoned character he is usually made out to be. This Petruchio has a softer and more thoughtful side. Initially, Bruner’s Kate is played less as a headstrong woman and more like a bat-shit-crazy lunatic who should be committed. Thankfully, her portrayal becomes more measured in later acts.
The highly physical show has actors circling in and out of the audience, constantly chucking things at each other and breaking into random dance moments, all without dropping a line of the complex dialogue.
By the end of the performance, the audience is won over by the story’s charm and the fact that the production owns its silliness as it ventures back to the 1980s and brings the audience along on a nostalgic trip.