Posted June 05, 2016 in Articles
Author: Steve Barnes
Given the nasty tone of this election year, mounting a play boiling with shouted political argument seems a perverse choice for a theater company and a borderline masochistic one for audiences, but "The Taming," running through the end of July at Shakespeare & Company, is an often hilarious romp across the liberal-conservative divide.
Lauren Gunderson's play, which premiered in San Francisco during the two-week shutdown of the federal government in October 2013 as a result of a congressional impasse, is exaggerated to the point of preposterousness. It's more outrageous than Donald Trump, if only by a bit, and since it's only a play, it's far easier to laugh at.
Though said to be inspired by "The Taming of the Shrew," Gunderson's play borrows little from the Shakespeare comedy other than its three characters' names and a script full of spirited dialogue. As "The Taming" opens, two women — Patricia, chief of staff for a conservative Southern senator, and Bianca, a fiery liberal blogger — awaken after a night of drinking to find themselves locked in a hotel room and missing their cellphones. They've been sequestered by Katherine, a Miss USA pageant contestant, who may be blonde and the reigning Miss Georgia but has brains and grit beneath her shiny exterior.
Katherine's plan is to force the two enemies to help mend a fractured nation and political system by doing nothing less than rewriting the Constitution. Because "The Taming' is a satire with elements of the fantastical, this involves not only strident verbal battles over contemporary issue but a return to 1787, when the women become members of the Founding Fathers who are drafting the Constitution. (Esther Van Eek's costumes for the flashback, long-tailed coats emblazoned with constitutional calligraphy, are a good joke unto themselves.)
The cast — Maddie J. Landers at the beauty queen, Tangela Large as the Republican staffer, Lucy Lavely as the liberal blogger — are all new at Shakespeare & Company, and they're talented finds for the troupe. As directed by Nicole Ricciardi, they keep the pace fast and the volume loud, leaving the audience little time to consider the easy exaggerations with which Gunderson sketches her satire. (The liberal's big cause is saving the "giant pygmy panda shrew"; the staffer, a black lesbian, toils for a family-values conservative with a long history of bedding his female interns.)
Between the exuberantly comic performances and the zingy lines — "What up, founder? Did someone say 'Huzzah!'?" — "The Taming" is an uproarious good time. It's also even-handed enough in its mockery of political hypocrisies that audiences from either side would be able to argue that Gunderson favors the other. The friend who was to have attended Saturday's opening with me begged off, having recently broken a rib. That was a prudent choice, as he likely would have reinjured himself from laughing.