As much as I love sitting in a theatre, nothing beats watching a play under the stars on a beautiful summer night. I had the pleasure of attending one of Driftwood Theatre’s remaining performances of The Taming of the Shrew, which is their 2016 Bard’s Bus Tour production, in Whitby’s Celebration Square.
The Taming of the Shrew tells the story of Baptista (Renée Hackett), who declares that no one will woo her youngest daughter Bianca (Myekah Payne) until her eldest daughter Katherine (Siobhan Richardson) gets married. Bianca is the fair daughter with two suitors, Hortensio (Drew O’Hara) and Gremio (played by various cast members), while Katherine is the shrew with no suitors due to her somewhat violent nature and complete disobedience towards anyone who tries to control her. As the play unfolds, Bianca’s suitors devise plans to make her fall in love with one of them while also enlisting the help of Petruchio (Geoffrey Armour) to win Katherine’s hand in marriage, thus freeing Bianca for matrimonial bliss.
The play delves deep into the themes of identity, control, consent, acceptance and equality. Driftwood Theatre makes the bold and creative choice of setting the play in 1989 Toronto with a focus on Pride to highlight these themes. 'Dominatrix' and ‘Submissive’ costumes are used to explore the theme of consent and control through the characters of Katherine and Petruchio. Identity and acceptance are explored through the casting of Bianca’s newest suitor Lucentio (Fiona Sauder), who is gender fluid.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the Canadian references that help modernize the play, and I loved that they work in each community they perform in by making Lucentio hail from that area. It is very creative to depict setting changes with blocks crafted to look like Baptista’s house, Petruchio’s house, Hortensio’s club and even a Petro-Canada gas station.
As a ’90s baby who wishes she lived in the ’80s, I was very excited to discover the production was set in 1989, but was a bit disappointed that the only real ’80s elements were the songs the cast sang to transition scenes, like “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benatar and “White Wedding” by Billy Idol. I expected the costumes to be brighter and to have more quintessential ’80s flare to them with outlandish patterns, shoulder pads and killer acid wash jeans.
Two standout elements in this production are the staging and the cast. Each scene was effectively staged so that every audience member had a great view of the performance. The use of minimal props and set pieces was very smart in that it allowed the cast to move around the small stage, using blocks to create different settings. I applaud Myekah Payne and director D. Jeremy Smith for stepping in to perform with less than 24 hours notice. Each cast member gave their all, especially Armour and Richardson, whose fiery passion made their battle for control all the more intense. Sauder’s sweet Lucentio and Paolo Santalucia’s hilarious Tranio worked to balance the intensity with tender feelings of love, as well as comedic gestures and impersonations.
Driftwood Theatre’s The Taming of the Shrew concludes Aug. 14 in Port Perry. Seats and blankets can be reserved at driftwoodtheatre.com, while Pay-As-You-Go admission (suggested $20 per person) can be paid before the play begins and during intermission.