BareStage’s gender-bent ‘Taming of the Shrew’ brings humor, awareness

Barestage Productions/Courtesy

BareStage Productions’ adaptation of “Taming of the Shrew” brings classic Shakespeare to the contemporary world by casting all the traditional lead male roles as females instead.

This version of “Taming of the Shrew” tells the story of several bachelorettes — all of whom are young except for one older woman — competing for the ever-so-dreamy Blake’s (Max Genecov) hand in marriage. Complicating this situation is his wealthy mother Baptista (Tiana Randall-Quant), who forbids Blake from getting married until his shrewd and widely disliked older brother, Christopher (James Lewis), finds a wife. Upon hearing this news, the greedy bachelorette Petronelle (Elizabeth Mathis) is more than happy to oblige, as long as she gets her share of wealth of course, and thus begins the first of many schemes crafted by the women to ultimately win Blake’s heart.

The play opens with Gremio (Lily Berger) and Hortensio (Abby Guadarrama), two of the eligible bachelorettes, pining for Blake’s love in an exaggerated fashion, which sets the tone well for the rest of the play. At first, the increasing melodrama of every character the audience sees seems a little over the top. Gradually though, each of the characters’ commitments to acting as such contributes to the overall fun and humorous atmosphere the play strives for.

Gremio, the much older neighbor who is explicitly interested in Blake, contributes exceptionally to this atmosphere and is an absolute joy to watch. Gremio is constantly bullied by the younger women, but through her snarky asides and incredible stage presence, she delivers a gripping performance that takes the audience through every emotion and thought her character experiences.

The real beauty of this adaptation then lies sheerly in just how much is happening on stage. Besides the performance of the main characters of every scene, there’s almost always a handful of other actors scattered on stage, either intently watching or doing miscellaneous activities in the background. Because of this, to someone unfamiliar with the original storyline, the plot does become a little difficult to follow, especially in the beginning, but the culmination of all this activity is what makes this performance so hysterical and fun to watch.

In the director’s note, director Hannah Hudson reveals her inspiration behind switching the gender roles for the play: “So, why gender bend a play known for its gender roles? The simple answer, and the naive one I might add, is because I believed it would solve my problem of finding humor in ‘taming’ a woman into submission.” By casting the male leads as female, this unique production makes fun of the traditional gender roles in the original Shakespeare play. In moments such as when the newlywed wives bet over whose husband will be the most obedient, the gendered undertones of the original play are brought back, except this time around, the women are dominating the men.

Hudson’s vision is made especially clear with the development of Christopher and Petronelle’s relationship. Petronelle exercises her growing influence over Christopher by making him do crazy things he just doesn’t want to do. The sarcasm with which Christopher responds in these situations makes them some of the most enjoyable scenes of the play. It also adds to the audience’s surprise at how sincere and sentimental the ending is in comparison, when Christopher officially proposes to Petronelle and reveals how he truly believes a man should treat his wife with respect.

The play’s ending is a refreshing twist from all the melodrama of the previous scenes and speaks to the emotional genuineness of the characters in this moment, which makes up for the times when the acting seemed overly exaggerated or corny. Overall, the show is definitely worth seeing and will leave you wondering about the gender inequalities layered beneath its humor.

BareStage Productions’ “The Taming of the Shrew” is playing through March 13 in the Choral Rehearsal Hall in the basement of Cesar Chavez.

Contact Priyanka Achalu at [email protected].