Shakespeare in the Trailer Park: This Shrew is Hell on Wheels, with Heart

Last night we went out to see The Taming of the Shrew, courtesy of Wooden O’s Shakespeare in the Park and the Mercer Island Arts Commission.

The sun was setting over a battered airstream-type trailer, parked conspicuously in the amphitheater at Luther Burbank Park. The husband and I had a nice soft camping blanket, a bottle of wine, and a picnic supper. The native MI picnickers behind us discussed what primary schools their kids were interviewing for and whether the new dog groomer was working out. Except for that last bit, it was a perfect night for Shakespeare in the Park.

Now, I heard this production of Shrew was a “western.” Either the concept changed a bit after the publicity went out, or “Western” must be a politically correct media translation for “White Trash.”

Whichever way, it totally works.

Shrew can be a tough show to carry off for a modern audience… there’s all that sparring physicality between Kate and Petruchio… I mean, real blows here, with cutting insults and mean tricks on each other. Then there’s that speech at the end… oof. If it weren’t for that speech. The reformed and penitent Kate, having been starved, sleep-deprived, and booted in the rear end for a few days lectures her fellow newly-wed women on obeying their husbands, their lords and masters, without quarrel or question.

Now, despite the overheard suggestion of the MI picnickers sitting behind us that “someone really could re-write the ending for a modern audience” (good lord!)… we all know that a play is a time capsule of the era in which it was conceived. But still… to reward imperious trickery and what we now call chauvinism with constant, patient, unargued obedience? That’s a tough prescription for a modern gal to swallow.

To my pure delight, all of that is handled beautifully by the concept and performance of this Western/White Trash production of Taming of the Shrew. First of all, the culture of it works. You can’t modernize this play without setting it in a culture where a modern American audience member can believe in that kind of wooing and winning of daughters. Have you seen King of the Hill lately? Or, for that matter, any marriage and dating reality show on Fox? Accurate or not, Redneck America as seen through popular media still gives us the perfect modern lens for this particular Shakespearean story.

The first glimpse of the Padua populace is mesh covered, pink spandexed, wedgeheeled, camoflauged, coveralled, crotch-grabbing, palm-spitting, and thick-drawling. And funny– very funny. This may be free theatre, but every actor out there has a heckuva bio–Seattle Shakespeare, Intiman, The Rep, MFAs, awards, and years and years doing Shakespeare in the Park. They are professionals, folks, armed with amazing timing and expression… I laughed at every single bit and triple take, and no, it wasn’t just the wine talking.

You want sight gags? You got it. You want over the top caricature? Flying beer cans, “your mama” jokes, and a never-ending stream of hi-larious redneck cliches Jeff Foxworthy wouldn’t believe? Oh yes, this is the place.

Tame That Shrew! Kelly Kitchens & David Quicksall as Kate and Petruchio.

Tame That Shrew! Kelly Kitchens & David Quicksall as Kate and Petruchio in Wooden O's redneck renditon of Shakespeare's tale.

Kate herself (the lovely Kelly Kitchens) appears in a Hooters tank-top and motorcycle boots, a beer can shaking, flower uprooting, hair tossing firebrand…. and yes, with soul. Once you get through the barbed and black humors. In the hilarious troupe of redneck comedians, Kitchens immediately establishes herself as the feeling–if injured and resentful–soul of this play.

And she is well -matched in her Petruchio (David Quicksall). The ‘stache, the ‘burns, the muscles bulging from a sleeveless tee, the rough-and-tumble insistent humor… it’s all perfectly placed here.

And that was the real gem of this production–If Kitchens is the soul, Quicksall is the heart. Even at his harshest, Petruchio seemed to want so hard for Kate to smile at life and a man who wants her, and to just maybe think beyond the injustices laid at her leather-booted feet. And Kate seemed to want that too, eventually. Their sparring became an understanding, a sharing of humor, an intimate way of knowing the other.

For the first time, I like Petruchio. For the first time, I understood what he was up to, and why on earht Kate would eventually love him (besides being sleep-deprived and starving, of course).

And for the very first time, I loved the ending speech.Rather than a diatribe to the other women on stage, Kitchens presented an apology to her new love, an intimate look into the ways she herself planned to change for both of their happiness. And it was all done with a twinkle in their eyes, a shared joke and truth, all at once.

And then they all sang karaoke, line danced at the backyard weddin,’ and disappeared into a rockin’, knockin’, beat-up trailer.

Go see it. Don’t make me get the hose.

Wooden O’s Taming of the Shrew closes August 2nd!
Check the website for the schedule and don’t forget their sister show, Richard III!

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