Burbage Theatre's current show is a new take on "The Taming of the Shrew" by William Shakespeare. It starts with Christopher Sly as a drunk in the audience disturbing the peace and before you know it the show unfolds before him. The show tells the story of Kate and Bianca, two unmarried daughters of wealthy Italian merchant, Baptista. Lucentio falls in love with the enchanting youngest daughter, Bianca. So do the cunning Hortensio and sickly Gremio. But before they compete for her love, Baptista must marry off his eldest daughter, Katherine. Her only fault? She is quick-witted, mean-spirited and prone to physical violence. But along comes Petruchio, a blunt swaggering rapscallion with a hunger to be wed wealthily and the social awareness of a stone. While the others pine and plot, Petruchio sets about to tame the wild Katherine in the most creative of ways. Hold onto your hats as the sparks fly in this high energy bawdy tale. Aside from its hilarity, having some of the best wordplay and physical exchanges of early Shakespeare has to offer, this play is about sexual provocation, about making a game of the struggle for power in a relationship. Framed as a play within a play, Burbage's version is a play about how the most successful relationships aren't always love at first sight, nor are they ever quite perfect from the start. Director Jeff Church picks the best performers for each of these roles and infuses them with energy that blends with his comic touches and clever shtick to keep the audience laughing all night long.
It is a contemporary look at the battle of the sexes. Jeff Church does double duty in this show. Not only does he direct it, he is also dynamite as Petruchio. He makes him appealing from start to finish. Most of his charm as Petruchio comes from his confident characterization. It might seem like a difficult task to make him a likable character because of his misogynistic traits. Jeff exudes charismatic aura and topnotch comic performance to win over the audience with his portrayal. Mia Rocchio, a statuesque brunette, shines as Kate. She unquestionably makes her into a strong character who bosses and tosses the others around until she is tamed. Mia displays the unruliness and wild nature from the first scene especially the verbal and physical sparring with Petruchio. Kate knees him in the family jewels a couple of times. She is also amazing in her final monologue when she submits to her husband's will. Mia runs the gamut of emotions in this role, going from one extreme to the other. Jeff and Mia's chemistry is topnotch and their interaction with each other is terrific, too. The swaggering, self assured husband breaking through Kate's barrier of words that she puts up between herself and marriage is very well done.
Lucientio and Bianca are wonderfully played by Dillon Medina and Laine Wagner. Both of them play up the zaniness of the roles.Dillon disguises himself as a language teacher to get close enough to woo her. Their kissing scene and moans and sighs of bliss are laugh out loud moments. Laine captures the duality of the role being nice and sneaky at the same time. Bianca's other suitors are excellently played by Nathanael Lee as Gremio, an older neighbor who lusts after her while Andrew Iacovelli is a hoot as Hortensio who becomes her music teacher but ends up married to a widow. Nathanael also plays a blind servant with very comical results. Andrew's disguise as the teacher is a pair of horn rimmed glasses and he plays the guitar off key after being bashed over the head with it by a furious Kate earlier in the show.
Roger Lemelin plays Baptista, Kate and Bianca's father. He commands the stage in this role, creating a dynamic character. Roger handles the transition from long suffering father to joyful one when Kate is finally tamed after years of bad behavior. The two biggest scene stealers are the men's servants,Ethan Cote as Grumio and Jonathan Fisher as Tranio are hilarious in their roles. Ethan does many pratfalls and wild antics as Petruchio's nervous servant while Jonathan plays Lucentio's servant who wins many laughs at his zany behavior especially funny is when he denies knowing the real Vincentio. The lighthearted and mischievous Tranio helps Lucentio finally win Bianca's hand. Chris Conte is a hoot as the drunken Christopher Sly and he also plays Vincentio, Lucentio's father who is wrongly imprisoned. I have fond memories of this character, having played Vincentio for TRIST back in 1990. There is a surprise ending sure to please the audience. So for a madcap, slapstick romp that will leave you rolling in the aisles, be sure to catch "The Taming of the Shrew" at Burbage Theatre. This five year old group will be moving to their permanent home on Westminster Street in Providence for their future performances.