Review: Theo Ubique’s “The Taming of the Shrew”

Making the most of a risky venture

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Theo Ubique presents:

The Taming of the Shrew
by William Shakespeare
directed by Nick Minas
thru October 4th (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Plopping Shakespeare into a cabaret setting seems like a very risky venture. However, so does paring down Andrew Lloyd Weber to fit into a tiny café. Theo Ubique had wild success with that, though, recently reeling in a massive amount of non-equity Jeff Awards for their spring production of Evita. To open this season, the spunky company tackles The Taming of the Shrew, a work a few centuries older than their usual musical flavored fare. The earnest performances tear down the fourth wall and make the intimate space work for the famous comedy, but a flimsy handling of the language keeps this innovative production from reaching its full potential.

Taming_of_the_Shrew2 In the director’s note, Nick Minas describes what Elizabethan theatre-goers would witness at one of William Shakespeare’s original productions: food, musicians, and jugglers— not unlike the cabarets of later centuries. And the cabaret style that Theo Ubique has nailed down works well for Shakespeare’s comedic styling. For a few hours in the cozy No Exit Café tucked away in Rogers Park, clowns, lovers, and ludicrous lords traipse around the tables and drink at the bar.

Minas and his cast do a brilliant job with the using the entire space and engaging the audience. The show begins with the backstage curtain being removed, revealing Lucentio and Tranio staring through the windows facing Glenwood Avenue. The use of this window is the highlight of the show. The audience watches characters peer into the café, run from entrance to entrance, and Kate (Jenny Lamb) even graffitis the building. It also adds a street performance vibe to the production: we watch how people walking by react. Whenever possible, the actors reference this unsuspecting audience, seeking support or sympathy. Opening up the window was a truly inspired choice; it adds another facet to the production and totally redefines the performances.

Taming_of_the_Shrew8 However, many of the actors are unable to wrangle down Shakespeare’s language. While the concepts are fleshed out and the cabaret style is vibrantly portrayed, the actual text is muddled and unclear. This serves as a painful reminder that the scrappy little company has its limits. Ben Mason’s Hortensio has a great physicality, but much of his lines are sped through and the story suffers. Ryan Jarosch as Grumio also rushes through some lines, but no one in the cast has a great grasp on Shakespeare’s words. More attention should have been paid to studying the verse. Considering the text is already full of puns and references that don’t make instant sense to a modern audience, failing to give it the proper respect can be disastrous. Fortunately, the cast is talented and charismatic enough that some of the hurried or imprecise lines can be forgiven, but these missteps add up and blur the story.

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Theo Ubique has played up the original compositions by Ethan Deppe that appear throughout the production. Much of the music is acapella and has a fun, carnival-like atmosphere. A few monologues are turned into song lyrics, these feel more unnecessary than enlightening. The production is also filled with sound effects—cymbals, slide whistlers, shakers of various kinds—that are used throughout. This adds a “Loony Toons” quality to this “Shrew,” but they are used too often. Some restraint would make this stylistic choice a lot funnier.

Taming_of_the_Shrew7 Besides stumbling with the language, the performances are pretty solid. Jeremy Van Meter makes a powerful, sexual Petruchio. Lamb’s Kate is terrifying, yet can reach into the vulnerability the character needs. The two match each other’s energy beautifully, and Minas fills their interactions with intensely physical combat and seduction. Matthew Sherbach is cross-cast as Bianca and does a great job capturing her brattiness. This adds another degree of comedy when she is courted by Steve Gensler’s wide-eyed Lucentio. His Tranio (Mike Oleon), though, can’t connect to the audience as well as the rest of the cast, and Oleon’s performance falters.

The final flaw with the production comes with Kate’s monologue at the end. If played too seriously, the monologue, describing how women should obey their husbands, comes off as backwards for modern audiences. Lamb and Minas couldn’t find the right way to make the finale work, we’re not sure if Kate has been beaten into submission or is tricking Petruchio. In the end, we’re just left feeling uncomfortable.

Rating: «««

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Theatre at the Center announces 2010 season

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In celebration of the 20th Season (!)

Theatre at the Center’s announces their 2010 Season

Coming off of a streak of some of the most successful seasons to date, William Pullinsi, Artistic Director, has announced Theatre at the Center’s 20th anniversary season, filled with some of the most popular productions of all time, as well as an area premiere. All of the 2010 season titles have marked, and will mark, a “first” for the history of Theatre at the Center. This 20-year anniversary milestone will be celebrated as a “season of firsts,” with some of the most celebrated titles in Theatre at the Center’s history:

Noises Off
February 19 – March 21, 2010

“The Funniest Farce Ever Written” is how the New York critics described the awesome hilarity and mind-boggling mayhem of Noises Off.  This uproarious comedy will run February 19 through March 21, with press performance on February 25. Noises Off follows the on and off stage antics of an inept acting troupe as they stumble from bumbling dress rehearsal to disastrous closing night.  Everything that can go wrong does, as actors desperately try to hang on to their lines, their performances, and the furniture.  Add a slippery plate of sardines and a slew of slamming doors and you have the most sidesplitting backstage comedy ever put on paper.

I Do! I Do!
April 22 through May 23, 2010 

I Do! I Do! was the first two-person musical ever performed on Broadway, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the creative duo behind The Fantasticks and 110 In the Shade. This remarkably intimate, thoroughly romantic piece, allows audiences into the bedroom of Agnes and Michael, as they try to maintain passion and devotion through the joys and pains, trials and tribulations, setbacks and celebrations of their fifty year marital odyssey. In that time we watch them go through their wedding night jitters, raise a family, negotiate mid-life crises, quarrel, separate, reconcile and grow old together, all lovingly to the strains of a tuneful, charming score which includes the standard "My Cup Runneth Over." I Do! I Do! runs April 22 through May 23 and the press performance will be April 29.

Jesus Christ Superstar
July 8 – August 8, 2010

Jesus Chris Superstar, the groundbreaking theatrical masterpiece by legendary writing team Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, will run July 8 through August 8 with a press performance on July 15. The first collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to be performed on the professional stage, Jesus Christ Superstar illuminates the transcendent power of the human spirit with a passion that goes straight to the heart. The production features a stirring score including “Superstar”, “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet / rock star whose appeal stems as much from the crowd’s energy as from his own inspirational message. Jesus’ meteor-like rise in renown provides, as the title suggests, a parallel to contemporary celebrity worship. As his radical teachings are evermore embraced, Judas increasingly questions the enlightened motives of this new prophet, resulting in betrayal. In this production, Christ’s final days are dramatized with emotional intensity, thought-provoking edge and explosive theatricality.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
September 9 – October 10, 2010

Based on the popular 1988 MGM film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels centers on two con men living on the French Riviera – the suave and sophisticated Lawrence Jameson, who makes his lavish living by talking rich ladies out of their money; and a small-time crook named Freddy Benson, who, more humbly, swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother’s failing health. After meeting on a train, they unsuccessfully attempt to work together only to find that this small French town isn’t big enough for the two of them. So they make a bet: the first one to swindle $50,000 from a young heiress, triumphs and the other must leave town. What follows are a series of schemes, masquerades and double-crosses in which nothing may ever be exactly what it seems. This Tony Award winning musical will run September 9 through October 10. The press performance will be September 16.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
November 11 – December 12, 2010

Kris Kringle takes on the cynics among us in It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, a musical adaptation of the popular holiday favorite “Miracle on 34th Street ”. In his inimitable style, Meredith Willson, the author of The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, tells the classic story of a white-bearded gentleman claiming to be the real Santa Claus as he brings about a genuine Miracle on 34th Street . Spreading a wave of love throughout New York City , this man inspires the city, fostering camaraderie between Macy’s and Gimbel’s Department Stores and convincing a divorced, cynical single mother, her somber daughter and the entire state of New York that Santa Claus is no myth. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas runs November 11 through December 12, with the press performance on November 18.

Founded in 1991, Theatre at the Center is a year-round professional theater at its home, The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road , Munster , Indiana .  Theatre at the Center is conveniently located off I-80/94, just 35 minutes from downtown Chicago . 

theatreatcenterSeason subscriptions to all of these timeless classics are available for $125 and will go on sale September 29, 2009 . New for this season will be subscription series events. The first of these events, the Wine and Theatre Series, will allow guests to enjoy delectable wines from all over the world at Theatre at the Center’s home, the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. An assortment of hors d’oeuvres will be served to compliment the wines. This Wine and Theatre Series can be conveniently added to season subscriptions for $75. The second, the Opening Night Series, guarantees subscribers the best seats for opening nights. Each show will be followed with a post-show reception with the cast and crew. This Opening Night Series can be added to the subscription for only $100. Finally, the Dinner Theatre series may be added to any subscription for only $105.25. Guests may enjoy pre-show special dinners conveniently located in The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, right across from the theatre lobby. To purchase season tickets, individual tickets call the Box Office at 219.836.3255 or Tickets.com at 800.511.1552.  Group discounts, available for groups of 20 or more; and gift certificates, perfect for all special occasions are also available by calling the Box Office at 219.836.3255 . For more information on Theatre at the Center, visit TheatreAtTheCenter.com. Map below – click map for larger view: