Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of The 39 Steps
Miss Georgia (Maddie Jo Landers), blonde and bold, really, really wants to become Miss America. As clever as is the entire play, this outspoken woman whose name is Katherine (ah, reference to The Taming of the Shrew) feels that if the current United States Constitution is discarded and a new one written in its place, this will expedite her goal.
Two other women find themselves together in a hotel room. Patricia (Tangela Large) is an aide to a senator who leans, shall we say, toward a conservative point of view. Actress Lucy Lavely plays Bianca, a blogger and journalist who is freedom-seeking, hippie-like, and determined to save the planet. Soon enough, Katherine is on the scene and she is not especially shy with her opinions and advisories to and for the other women.
Some 45 minutes in, the mini-act concludes and, after a short dissolve, the audience finds itself in 1787, watching James Madison (Large, who was Patricia) attempting to sculpt the Constitution and Bill of Rights. George Washington (Maddie Jo Landers, who was Katherine) urges Madison to work with Charles Pinckney, played by Lavely, who began the show as Bianca. Pinckney, evidently, was a South Carolinian with some sway. Gunderson's pointed dialogue includes reference to slavery, the value or lack of concerning the Electoral College, and so forth. It is not a spoiler to mention that the production does not conclude during the late 18th century.
Aside from its title and two of the characters's names, The Taming does not have a cogent connection to Shakespeare's comedy. It has all the world's pertinence to the current presidential race in this country and, certainly, to our recent witness of 16 candidates who were originally vying to become the Republican Party's nominee. As you watch, feel free, if you wish, to reflect upon, for example, Ted Cruz. Gunderson's play premiered three years ago. That Shakespeare & Company presents it just now is fortuitous.
Katherine, the figure one might prejudge to be ditzy, is brainy, perceptive, driven and goal-oriented. Patricia, too, is proactive and she will, if possible, propel her senator's bill forward. Some will unabashedly root for Lavely's Bianca, a woman who is outspoken, wears her feelings openly ... besides, the role demands enviable versatility.
John McDermott's scenic design is distinctively winning. The show opens within a literal swirl as the becoming Miss Georgia greets us all. A shift to the hotel rooms occurs and then a swift change backward in timeall the while, director Ricciardi moves the play along quite briskly. Kevin G. Coleman is listed as fight choreographer and, while fisticuffs are not part of the process, symbolic jousting surely is. Esther Van Eek's costume choices help transform the action from the present day to 1787 and back again.
The three actors cast in this production are new to Shakespeare & Company and it is a pleasure to report that each is most disciplined and highly energized. There isn't any time for standing around during the course of The Taming and Ricciardi provides movement for many a moment. Finally, a nod here for the decision to cast Tangela Large, who happens to be African-American, in a role as a strong, savvy woman who must be a decisive force working for her southern senatorial leader. Finally this: think about compromise!
The Taming continues at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the campus of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through July 30th, 2016. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit www.shakespeare.org.