It’s been 15 years since the mountain theater has done Shakespeare. It seems the time is right under new AD.
Shakespeare abounds in Colorado in summertime, and this year visitors to Breckenridge have the opportunity to see a very strong production of The Taming of the Shrew.
The town’s Backstage Theatre hasn’t mounted a Shakespeare production in more than 15 years, but relatively new artistic director Nathan Autrey (he started last fall) is an experienced Shakespearean actor himself, and he figured it was time.
With director Nic McMinn at the helm, Autrey got on board as Lucentio while they also managed to assemble a particularly awesome cast — many of whom had impressive Shakespeare chops coming in.
The Taming of the Shrew is about Baptista Minola (Brad DeBorde) a father in Padua, Italy who has two daughters ready to marry. The younger, Bianca (Miranda Byers) is considered the more beautiful and sweet, while the elder, Katherina — or Kate — (Paige Brantley) is known for her sharp tongue and obdurate temper — the “shrew.” Bianca is already surrounded by suitors, but Baptista makes it clear nothing happens with her until Kate is married.
Suitors Hortensio (Branden Smith) and Gremio (Andrew Maggs) hatch a plan to find someone to woo and wed Kate, thus clearing their way to compete for Bianca’s affections. But then, in comes Lucentio, a visiting student who also enters the competition for Bianca. Learning that Bianca needs some tutoring, he switches clothes with his servant Trania (Kelsey Colwell) and applies for the job. Hortensio also lines up to tutor Bianca, disguised in a beard.
Meanwhile, in saunters Petruchio (Joey Folsom), a friend of Hortensio’s who says his father has just died. He’s flush with cash and looking for fun, travels and perhaps a wife. He’s quickly recruited to woo and “tame the shrew” and he eagerly sets about a plan to win Kate.
Petruchio’s approach is to pretend all Kate’s harshness is really quite sweet, and she agrees to marry him when it becomes clear he’s the only one willing to do so. Then, he sets out to break her down further by finding ways to severely limit her food, sleep and clothing options while also gaslighting her about basic facts. Worn down by all this, she eventually starts agreeing to whatever he says and is thus “tamed.”
This plot has been controversial for centuries, and even more so in the modern era of women’s lib and #MeToo. It’s certainly possible to look at the plot of Shrew and see objectionable material and outdated ideas about how women should act, the need for men to control them and the like.
One could also see it as a commentary on the stupidity of men (i.e., the bumbling suitors), and that Kate’s ultimate change of tone is testament to her own power to get what she wants because she’s fallen truly in love with Petruchio.
Or we could just see it as the 400-year-old comedy it is, with Shakespeare’s plot designed to create a series of ridiculous situations for laughs — and that we shouldn’t read too much into it.
If any of the first two are likely to give you pause or cause offense, Shrew may not be the show for you.
But you’d really be missing out, because the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew is a really nice piece of work.
A splendid cast
At its heart is the story of Kate and Petruchio, and it’s hard to say enough about Brantley and Folsom in these roles. He’s a perfect Petruchio: a swaggering, handsome, self-assured rake who inserts himself into the situation as if born to it. Folsom is a bit of a ringer, an Equity actor from Dallas who somehow found time away from his own theater to spend the summer in Breckenridge.
Another Texan by way of Chicago, Brantley plays Kate as Petruchio’s match. Even while succumbing to his flurry of bullshit, she never allows the character to appear beaten or “tamed.” She plays it more like she’s just taking a bit of a break for her own sanity. Physically, Brantley is all over the place, a fighter with a mane of dark hair that’s as much a part of her costume as the period dresses.
You’d have a pretty good Shrew if you had two actors this good, but this is a solid cast throughout. Autrey is a fine Lucentio, playing him as a bit of a besotted doofus willing to do whatever it takes to win Bianca. Byers is lovely in this role, but also equally up to mischief as she winks and schemes her way through the bumbling men.
As the patriarch, Baptista Minola, DeBorde is excellent — a large man in a ridiculous outfit (kudos to costume designer Amanda Bedker for his getup and all the others) who’s often befuddled by the events around him. A strong presence on stage, DeBorde does a lot of the comedy with facial expressions that say it all. For Gremio, an ultimately spurned suitor, Maggs plays him as an amiable dork whose motto seems to be “better luck next time.”
McMinn’s direction of the show is aimed at extracting all of the comic opportunity from it, and as such this is a particularly funny Shrew. Lucy Connell, who plays Lucentio’s other servant, also gets a lot of laughs, playing Biondella as both a tad thick but playful. Smith is hilarious as Hortensio, particularly when he’s the bearded old man pretending to be a lute teacher. (He at one points ends up with pieces of it stuck in his beard after trying to convince Kate to give it a try.) Asa Wallace does a nice job as Grumio, Petruchio’s manservant, seeming to take the chaos in stride while he tries to stay drunk.
It all adds up to a fun and memorable night of theater at the Backstage, now in its 45th season.
A final note about the Breckenridge Theatre, where the Backstage has its home: This space, which old timers might remember as Shamus O’Toole’s Roadhouse Saloon back in the day, has been renovated several times. The most recent remodel in 2016 added a large bar and expanded lobby, as well as fancy new seats with cupholders. The rake and staggering of the seats is perfect, so that you’re never looking at the back of someone’s head. As such, there are no bad seats in the 137-seat house.