Last night, Big Red and I went to see The Taming of the Shrew-- Original Practices. As there are but two more performances, and as I am looking at a packed weekend (including an ungodly early wedding rehearsal this morning) I haven't got time for a proper review. But let me begin with my one and only regret about this performance and that is that I didn't see it much sooner, so that I could tell you about it, so that you could BE SURE TO SEE IT. All I can say now is, I hope you don't already have other plans, or that if you do, they are easily cancelled. Because seriously? This is some kick ass Shakespeare my friends, and there are only two shows left, today and tomorrow.
"Original Practices" refers to productions done as close as possible to how they would've been seen back in the day. No we didn't go to The Globe Theatre. Instead, the play is staged "in a hidden room somewhere in 311 W. 7th Street." It really is in a hidden room, and you really need a password to enter. The building is an old Mason Lodge-- same place the Texas Observer is located-- and it's a little creepy-in-a-good-way as you try to imagine just who the Masons were (are?) and what they did (do?). But that's simply a curiosity to entertain you while you wait for the house to open. The real show is the show. Or, to quote the t-shirt I'm wearing right now, which quotes Shakespeare (I got it at a Shakespeare Festival in Canada-- I HEART THE BARD!): The Play's The Thing.
Master of Play, Beth Burns, puts on some of the best Shakespeare in this town, and that's saying something. We have so many great opportunities to take in Old Bill's works. I dig the amateur but delightful Shakespeare at Winedale fest. I dig Ann Ciccolella's interpretations (MacBeth with cell phones, anyone?) And right now, through May 30th, you can catch a 1960's flavored Midsummer Night's Dream as this year's Zilker Hillside Shakespeare in the Park. But I have a special place in my heart for the old school style Burns embraces, ending her shows (she did a great Twelfth Night sometime back) with traditional dancing, and punctuating entire performances with live music (which might answer the questions: Where do RenFest folks go when RenFest is not in session?)
Every actor in Shrew delivers a fantastic performance. Whatever excitement I feel when seeing a contemporary stage production-- and I am forever awed at the memorization of so many words, even at bad plays-- well that enthusiasm grows exponentially when I witness Shakespeare, and then it swells even more when I see Shakespeare done so well. The players aren't just delivering regular old dialogue, they are working with words written long ago, in a certain, very specific form and style. (Sorry to state the obvious but what I mean is-- HOW DO THEY DO THIS?!)
I wish I had time here to specifically point out the good things about each and every performer's performance. But I am going to focus on just two. Because this is Original Practices. all of the roles are played by men. I didn't know, going in, if this meant we were going to be witnessing some Kids in the Hall drag, ala Cathy & Kathy-- which would've been fine, I LOVE KITH. But no... Ryan Crowder, who plays Katherina, aka The Shrew, is so fucking over the top fantastic, so utterly believable, so tremendously stunning, that suspending disbelief is a simple task. No falsies here, or other props (beyond the lady costumes Ryan wears). He simply becomes Katherina and we simply believe he is she. To the point that, I think I got a crush of the sort that I am considering becoming a lesbian and asking Ryan out. OMG-- not enough good words out there to heap on this man-as-woman. I was so sad that, at the end, the actors disappeared. I had this plot in my head-- one informed by a passion I hadn't felt since I saw an ACL taping with Dolly Parton-- that I would spot Ryan in the lobby and rush him and swoop him into my arms and carry him off. Wow Wow Wow!
Judd Farris, in the role of Petrucio, also delivers 200% and then some. The thing is, his character is quite despicable-- and in case you don't know, Shrew is about as misogynistic as you can get (well, wait, there's always Neil LaBute....). Surely the play was the inspiration for that icky classic movie, Gaslight. I typically avoid misogynistic work, but it's like buying bananas. Let me explain-- I prefer to buy organic bananas. But I more prefer to buy green bananas. In an ideal situation, I'll find organic bananas that are green. But if I'm looking at a display of only-yellow organic and green conventional, I'm going for the latter. I just can't eat yellow bananas fast enough. So while I certainly have more favorite Shakespeare plays, I was able to set aside any apprehension about the message in Shrew, understanding this would be overridden by the wonderful language and, as prepared by Burns, utterly delicious. So, to get back to Farris's turn as a man determined to break the spirit of an independent woman-- he wore the character like Vibram FiveFingers. I mean, super snug fit. Utterly believable.
So much to love about this show. So much! If you want to go, you gotta hustle. Know that it runs 2 hours 45 minutes, and that includes a 15 minute intermission. They've got snacks, beer and soft drinks, and some cool masks for sale in the lobby. Here's the info on how to get tickets: