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The Taming of the Shrew

On the farm, Present Company offers as pleasant an evening as you'll spend with a shrew

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., May 4, 2012

Arts Review
Photo courtesy of Lilan Ward

The Taming of the Shrew

Rain Lily Farm, 914 Shady
www.presentcompanytheatre.com
Through May 6
Running time: 3 hr.

Present Company has returned to Rain Lily Farm to present a Shakespeare play in one of the more idyllic theatre settings that Austin has to offer. With the not-yet-hot April evenings and rows of local produce forming the backdrop, the company set itself up for success with its production of The Taming of the Shrew, under the direction of co-Artistic Director Lindsay Doleshal.

Taming is one of the more challenging of Shakespeare's plays to produce today because of the subject matter: An obstinate, headstrong woman (we might call her "spunky") is married off to a man who has decided that he will tame her into a sweet, obliging wife who always does his bidding without question. It's a rare audience member, male or female, who won't feel at least a little uncomfortable with the implications of that.

As Kate, the shrew in question, co-Artistic Director Stephanie Carll does one of the best jobs I've seen of creating a character who relinquishes the rudeness but holds on to her dignity and personhood. Audience members familiar with the play often wait with unpleasant apprehension for Kate to deliver her submissive lines in the later scenes. Here, however, I soon found myself looking forward to Act V to see what Carll would bring to it. Her Kate is tough, spunky, and, by Act V, pretty cool. Thanks to some solid wardrobe choices (all the actors wear contemporary clothing), Kate even seems like, well, a real Austin kind of gal: She has attitude, a sense of humor, and a great big laugh.

It's a pleasure to see Carll and the rest of the cast performing without mics. What efforts the company did not spend on a sound system they put into working with vocal coach Aaron Black, and the whole cast is perfectly audible, even from the back. The natural, unamplified voices are a welcome demonstration that some outdoor shows (albeit smaller ones) will indeed do better without the constant, artificial sound of speakers.

Present Company might have toned it down in the volume of the production overall. Performing Shakespeare outdoors requires a certain exuberance and energy to keep the language from drifting away into the evening sky, and this production maintains that sense of hugeness throughout, where occasional moments of subtlety and quiet might have been more welcome amidst the three-hour running time.

The other questionable choice is having certain male roles changed to female – for example, Kate's father becomes her mother, Baptista (Dawn Youngs, who plays her as a sassy and sexy matriarch). In most Shakespearean plays, that's not too disruptive, but in a play fraught with such complicated gender politics, it's confusing.

In all, however, the show and setting combine for a pleasant evening in East Austin. It's a show with broad laughs and a big heart, and that's not so bad to have with a picnic dinner.

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