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The Aquila Theatre Company brought two Shake­speare shows –– “Cryano do Bergerac” and “The Taming of the Shrew” –– to Hillsdale College Oct. 9 and 10. The theater showed “The Taming of the Shrew” on the second night, Oct. 10, and their modern take on this classic play was pep­pered with clever gags and audience inter­action.

Bap­tista, the rich – very rich – Italian bistro owner, has a problem. He has two beau­tiful daughters who need to get married. But just as the younger Bianca (while maybe a bit dim) is exceed­ingly charming and docile, her sister, Katherine, is exceed­ingly loud and vin­dictive – the titular shrew.

Bap­tista has no shortage of suitors for Bianca, however, he is worried that Katherine – both for her sake and his own – will never find a husband, and so decrees he will not give the younger until someone takes the older.

This is bad news for Bianca’s suitors, the bum­bling Hort­ensio and the wheel-chair bound Gremio, who, upon hearing Baptista’s ulti­matum, briefly join forces in search of some sucker-suitor to take Kate, freeing them to resume fighting over Bianca.

Cue the Zep­pelin and enter Hortensio’s friend Petruchio, the chopper-driving, leather-wearing gold digger. Not so much a sucker as maybe insane, he hears “dowry” and is wooing Kate quicker than Jimmy Page could finish a guitar solo (OK, a lot quicker).

The two meet in a well-staged scene: Kate is chopping apples when Petruchio appears. He makes his inten­tions clear. Kate, doing what Kate does, becomes angry and dif­ficult. Petruchio takes her abuse in stride and announces to Bap­tista that he and Kate will be married within the week, causing Kate to spit chunks of half-chewed apple across the stage. So begins the shrew’s taming.

The Aquila Theatre mod­ernizes “The Taming of the Shrew” won­der­fully, building on the foun­dation Shake­speare already laid. Aquila’s addition of short shorts, a green wig, and a per­fectly timed “Lets Get It On” are logical steps rather than tenuous gags.

The major subplot of the play, and the part I enjoyed most, was the scrum for Bianca’s hand. Young Lucentio and his faithful servant, Tranio, roll into town on their expensive-looking scooters and upset Hort­ensio and Gremio’s plan. There is a great scene in which both Lucentio and Hort­ensio (looking a lot like Bono) are dis­guised as tutors to get some alone time with Bianca. Neither is very good at what he is pre­tending to teach, resulting in ridiculous fun.

For the set, the troupe relied on pic­tures and videos pro­jected on blank can­vases for a sort of green-screen effect. This trick sup­ported some clever gags, such as Petruchio’s rock ‘n’ roll entrance on a motor­cycle created using a chair, a set of han­dlebars, and a video of a swiftly passing highway. A couple of the screen jokes fell flat, but the misses were by and large excep­tions.

The Aquila troupe actors did a top-notch job, per­forming a more than 20-role-play with only four actors, two actresses, and one Hillsdale college pro­fessor, Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy James Stephens. Stephens was, I presume, ran­domly pulled from the crowd to act the part of Lucentio’s father. He read from note cards handed to him by the actor playing Petruchio. The whole troupe danced around the fourth wall for two scenes, playing along with the gag per­fectly. Stephens received some of the biggest laughs of the night.

All together, the play was wacky fun. Mod­ern­izing Shake­speare can be risky (see Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet), but the Aquila Theatre did a great job with it, pre­senting a fun, modern play, while restraining it from descending into gimmick.

 

                                                                cwhitmer@hillsdale.edu