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.