Wonderful performing cascades before your eyes and ears. It’s The Taming of the Shrew made endearing and vivacious, brimming with style and sparkling loquaciousness as guided by director Amy Lane and interpreted by a flawless 18-member ensemble for Nebraska Shakespeare.
The players own the stage and Lane has everyone on it in constant and delightful motion. By leaps and bounds, they keep the action and the story full of life. At the same time, despite all the rushing to and fro, the rich language and complex speeches never get so hurried that their sense gets trampled. Moreover, Lane has found delightful, snappy ways to bring out the bawdiness Shakespeare put there and, clearly has encouraged her actors to find fun within the lines.
You probably know that a prominent element of the story deals with male domination and female subjugation. A tricky path to follow in our day, unlike its original time when, despite the forceful rule of an English queen, women were essentially powerless. Lane, in having an all-male cast, seeks to replicate the sense of the period and, equally, to call attention to its confines. You needn’t look for that, or ponder it. She’s made sure that everything rolls on with its own momentum. She’s created jolly, fresh perspectives without ever tampering with what’s in the original conception. She imaginatively conjures up deliberately ambiguous personifications while Lindsay Pape’s fantastic costumes add to those images. “Gender,” Lane said is “a social construct, a performance rather than an identity.” Role playing, then, underlies it all. Things do get broad, but never go beyond the boundaries. These characters seem like real people who just get carried away a lot.
Audience-friendly-wise, Lane and Artistic Director Vincent Carlson-Brown have made sure that everyone present can know the essence of the story. A synopsis is in the informative, excellently- produced program book.
Here, however, is the essence. Baptista Minola declares that his youngest daughter Bianca can be free to marry only after her older sister, rambunctious Katharina (aka Kate) is wed. Gremio, Hortensio and Lucentio seek to woo Bianca and come up with a variety of schemes, including disguises, to win her love. Petruchio vows to make Kate his bride although she does all she can to resist. After they are wed, he devises what look like loving ways to tame her, which ultimately succeed.
Among the disguise routines, FYI, Lucentio and his servant Tranio reverse roles. And later they get a merchant to impersonate Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, a trick which comes undone when the real father appears. Not to worry. As with everything else in this production, the playing makes it clear.
Joe Lullo’s Petruchio brims with dynamic panache, although he might have seemed broadly sweeter when trying to convince Kate of his love. As for Kate, Daniel Ian Joeck never suggests conventional femininity, a perfect choice by him and Lane to remind us that women take many shapes and forms. Thus, when Kate finally yields to her husband’s rule, she does so with strength and surety, as if en route to equal partnership.
Myles Phillips and Buddy Haardt as Lucentio and Tranio deliver their speeches with such knowing skill that you’d swear they’ve done so before at London’s Globe. Phillips also exudes true charm. Brian Linden plays Gremio, Bianca’s older suitor, with edgy feistiness and clearly knows how to make his costume have a life of its own.
All of this cast merges and moves as if one dynamic company which has been together before and long. Credit them and Lane for making it seem so.
Pape’s exceptional costumes become a non-stop marvel. For example, there’s Hortensio’s violet-ribboned outfit, delightfully flounced and fluttered by Josh Doucette. And another masterpiece almost takes the wedding cake, Kate’s multi-layered bridal clothes, all in black, as if in mourning, but also a reversal of the black Petruchio had been wearing.
Carlson-Brown has marvelously staged the fights. Call some of them brawls, especially the great match on the mat when Kate and Petruchio first confront each other’s urges to be on top. Plus, on the subject of movement, choreographer Patrick Roddy’s finale dance may make you want to leap up and join them.
Call it a triumph.
The Taming of the Shrew runs through July 10. Elmwood Park, south of UNO’s Bell Tower. 8 p.m. Free. www.nebraskashakespeare.com.