Went and saw my acting teacher/mentor Steve Wang's production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at the old ETW on Thursday, along with Frank and J-Mo. Ran into Ben Newman there, as well as Croft and Karisa (who's name I was embarassed to not remember: she ran sound for my play Nitewerk) and some familiar faculty faces. It was quite a little blast from the past.
The show itself was enjoyable. Steve set the floor of the theater up like an Italian restaurant and seated the audience there, using the risers where chairs are usually placed as playing space. He also cross-cast the principle characters, which served to undercut the somewhat questionable gender messages of the play. This let it just be the screwball comedy it was meant to be, backed with schmaltzy piano even.
The music was provided by Rachelle Garniez, who I know from back when she did some grand accordian playing for Steve's Merchant of Venice, which Frank and I were in together as Antonio and Bassanio. She did a wonderful job here, composing and performing a score which added a lot to the play, and got stuck in your head.
The performance was fun, but it also could have been tighter. There were moments where the vocal execution was right on and the timing crisp and sharp, and these were some of the most hillarious bits. It made me wish the whole show was like that, a little more tightly wound, quickly performed. Shakespeare is meant to be fast. The thing is, it's really hard to do that, especially when a lot of your players are working outside their normal vocal range.
Even with that challange, the cast performed well. The young woman who played Portrucio -- the Tamer of the Shrew, who was herself well-played by a tall black man -- carried things admirably. There was also some delightful bits of character work done by a few cast members who filled multiple roles. I should have saved a program so I could name names, but Bravo everyone.
The direction was also a pleasure. Steve likes to break the barrier between audience and performer, and there was plenty of that to see.
The setting itself broke any notion of the fourth wall right off the bat: as the audience entered they were greeted by cast members in the characters of waiters and waitresses, and shown to a "table" on the floor of the theater. They served bruschetta and then changed into their alternate-sex/character outfits, intracting all along. Pretty good way to set a mood.
This layout also let action happen "on the floor," with chases literally circling the house and the risers serving for more language-heavy scenes. There was one particularly inspired setting, where a trip back to Kate's father's is inexplicably cast as a mountain-climb, complete with a clipline and carabiners. It's just a short little wordplay scene with the Portrucio running his tame-game on the new bride, but the physical comedy created by the setting really let it pop.
The whole experience left me feeling at once energized, and also old. It was good to see art, and nice and nostalgic to remember my college days; but it also makes you think, to see how young everyone looked. I felt vaguely lecherous just being there, though that could just me being a little overly sensitive.
Yeah. There's a lot of energy. It's a good scene, and for the most part everyone is cool. They got new lockers, and the Men's bathroom shower is really a shower rather than a hole in the ground, so things must be going pretty good.
I spent a little time talking to Ben Newman (a hard-luck guy) and also good old Angela Hurley while sort of eyeing her little sister (who's got to be in her 20s now and was wearing cowgirl boots). After the show I got to give Steve a hug, and then we were out.
Saying our goodbyes to J-Mo, Frank and I bombed it into W-burg to catch up with our cohorts at TKs, riding a kind of competative semi-race most of the way. We passed some folks on our way over the bridge, one of whom came back to smoke us on the second leg of the uphill with his well-tuned fixed gear. Frank's comment later was, "we awakened the dragon."
After that just another night with friends.