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No Holds Bard: "The Taming of the Shrew," at the Rock Island Masonic Temple through March 16 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 12 March 2008 02:40

Chris Moore and Beth Woolley

The way I see it, the only real problem with the Prenzie Players (and it's more a problem for me than them) is that their performance standard is so consistently high that when they produce a show that satisfies even beyond that standard, you don't quite know how to describe it. Regarding the theatrical troupe's current production of The Taming of the Shrew, then, let me just state that it's the best time I've had at an area show in all of 2008. And, quite possibly, in all of 2007. And 2006. The invention and commitment and laugh-'til-you-cry hilarity of director Jeremy Mahr's presentation is truly staggering; it transports you to a state of complete happiness that you don't ever want to return from.

As is often the case with Prenzie endeavors, the happiness begins well before the 8 p.m. curtain. And while I don't want to say anything to ruin the magical surprise of Shrew's prelude, I will say that, on Friday night, the half hour "pre-show" featured snacks, a guitar solo, a lovely a cappella duet, and the most spot-on impersonation of Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic I've ever heard. Chances are good that when you see the show, the lineup will have changed - which is just one of many reasons why I'll be attending another Shrew performance this weekend - but what I'm guessing won't have changed is the opener's thoroughly ingratiating, anything-goes spirit. That, and the almost fearsomely strong work of Eddie Staver III.

Like the preamble, Staver's performance here is best left a surprise, but even if you've been blown away by the actor in the Green Room's productions of The Glass Menagerie, Carousel, and Fully Committed, you're likely to be in for a shock. As the drunken Christopher Sly for whom The Taming of the Shrew is staged (in a neat handling of the show's tricky sexual politics), Staver is so wholly in character that his immersion feels less like acting than morphing. For much of the show's length, Sly is tangential to the action, yet you still might find it impossible to tear your focus from him; Staver comes up with almost ridiculously inspired bits of comic business - his opening of a flask with both hands already full must be seen to be believed - and rattles off delirious Shakespearean rants as if doing so were the simplest thing in the world. It couldn't be, of course, but in Staver's ferociously funny portrayal, you never catch him sweating.

Amidst less formidable company, the actor might easily have walked off with the show. This production does not allow him that opportunity. Was it really only 13 months ago that Chris Moore made his Prenzie debut? So relaxed and charismatic that he seems to have been performing with the group since birth, Moore and his enormous talents (witnessed, in smaller doses, in King Henry the Fourth and Fifth) are showcased to superb effect as the shrew-taming Petruchio. He's an extraordinarily confident and commanding presence here, with a knack for throwaway rejoinders that leave the audience in stitches, and his scenes with J.C. Luxton - a robust, gloriously entertaining Grumio - are high-comedy heaven.

His scenes with Beth Woolley are no less marvelous. Mostly seen in the periphery of Prenzie offerings, yet always memorable, Woolley creates a singular figure with her Katherina. Sporting a hooded sweatshirt and a scowl that screams "hands off," the actress suggests a young woman who uses irrational anger to mask her misery, and Katherina's virulent outbursts at both Petruchio and her younger sister, Bianca (lusciously well-played by Woolley's actual sister, Maggie), are physically, and comedically, devastating. Yet it's in Woolley that Shrew also finds its soul; Katherina's gradual dismantling and eventual acceptance of Petruchio's love are handled with graceful, subtle emotional shading. (There may be no more moving stage moment this year than Katherina, with her back to us, plaintively recognizing that she has nothing left to wear.)

Incredibly, the aforementioned wonders still only hint at Taming of the Shrew's greatness. Jake Walker offers magnificently aggrieved readings as the elderly grouch Gremio; Andy Koski provides enrapturing romantic sentiment, and a thrilling touch of randiness, as Lucentio; Prenzie veterans Denise Yoder, Bryan Woods, and John Turner perform with expected skill and grin-inducing playfulness; Prenzie newcomers Jaci Entwisle, Dustin Oliver (in tongue-in-cheek drag), and the sprightly young Kim Franck prove welcome additions to the troupe. Mahr's staging, with the audience seated throughout the Masonic Temple's playing area, could be a master class in the clever orchestration of farcical movement and dialogue. The costuming - particularly Petruchio's and Grumio's unforgettable wedding garb - is sublime.

And for a production that begins as a joyous party, it only makes sense that the show should end with one. Just when those unfamiliar with Shakespeare's text are experiencing its presumed happy ending, the Prenzie Players present an even happier one, with a finale that stands as a beautiful act of inclusion - toasts, laughs, and cheerfulness abounds. There's even cake. The Taming of the Shrew is miraculous fun.


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Comments (8)Add Comment
written by moonlight graham, March 12, 2008
So, anonymous Prenzie-hater, whaddaya think?

Is this another giant conspiracy? Does Mike's glowing (and spot-on) review of "Taming" signal the downfall of theater in the QC? Too much quality? Too many Woolleys?

I say "Game on!"
written by Dustin Oliver, March 13, 2008
Yeah, I wonder what Mr./Mrs. Anonymous thinks about the three newcomers (including myself), since with the Prenzies, it's just"the SAME actors in each play". Bah.

I've never had this much fun on stage.
written by Theatre Fan, March 14, 2008
This really is getting out of hand. The problem is that Mike's reviews are so glowing that I won't see this show because it couldn't possibly be as good as he says. You have to be careful. You certainly should say that the show is good, but can't you leave it at that? Do you really have to go so far as to say that it's the best show you've seen in years? This is a severe case of over-hyping with no real objectivity.
Allison Collins-Elfline
written by Allison Collins-Elfline, March 15, 2008
Hurrah, my dear Prenzies!

What a magical night of theatre we were able to be a part of last night. A spot-on review, Mike sir.

Although am wondering how I will even begin to get the vision of JC in a corset out of my brain.
written by Tyson Danner, March 16, 2008
Maybe we should just stop allowing Mike to write reviews. After all, you can't be too careful! Maybe the Reader could just publish "GOOD" or "BAD" in size 40 font in the space Mike's reviews normally occupy. (But what if he gives too many "GOOD" reviews to any one theatre?! Uh oh...maybe we'll only allow him to give out a certain number of "GOOD" reviews. That sounds fair! yeesh...)

I saw "Shrew" Friday night and was incredibly entertained! Like their last production (Othello), I had such a hard time understanding the actors that I felt bad for those who had never seen or read the play. It's really hard for me to get past that. And I didn't really agree with a lot of the interpretation or directing choices. For me, a message conveyed subtly with subtext is more interesting. But that isn't the Prenzie style - they're an energetic, in-your-face group, and I certainly wouldn't want them to change who they are!

However, it was definitely laugh-till-you-cry hilarious. I don't remember when I've laughed so hard for so long at a play.

Bravo Prenzies!
written by Theatre Fan, March 17, 2008
See, Tyson, THERE'S the exact kind of review that's actually helpful. Mike can certainly give as many positive reviews as he wants, but when he gushes about a production without acknowledging any shortcomings makes me feel as if he is more willing to overlook them when it suits him. He is more than ready to pick apart the productions of the local universities, but according to him the Prenzies have done nothing but give flawless presentations that everyone should see. You are not the first person to acknowledge the audio problems at their shows, but this goes right over Mike's head. Why should I pay good money for a show I can't hear? This is exactly the problem with a review as ridiculously one-sided as this one.
written by Dustin Oliver, March 18, 2008
Mike is only one person. Of course his review is going to be one-sided. There are three newspapers in the Quad Cities that review plays, along with an independent website and a TV station. All but one of these reviews for this show were overwhelmingly positive.

As for the audio problems, maybe it depends on the person, or even where one sits. Maybe Mike didn't mention audio problems because he didn't experience any. My character sat in the audience for most of the first half of the show, and I didn't have any problems hearing or understanding anything.
written by Tyson Danner, March 18, 2008
Theatre Fan,

I understand your point of view, but I have to disagree with your interpretation of the review.

I think we have to read reviews as just the critic's opinion. Mike can only convey his impressions and thoughts about the show to a wider audience. If what he wants to get across in a limited amount of print space is that he loved the show and everyone should see it, then I think he's more likely to get in all the good stuff that he can, rather than working to find some criticisms.

No review is going to be totally objective, because theatre is a subjective experience. It comes across in a different way to every person in the room. We can only hope that the reviewer paints an honest and accurate picture of his experience. And, even when I disagree with Mike's reviews, I can still say with confidence that he's in no way unfair. I'm sure that if one were to survey all those in attendance, you'd find some that hated the show, some that loved it even more than Mike, and everywhere in between.

Regardless, your concerns about the audio problems are (in my opinion) justified. But hey, they're working in a found space that is most definitely not friendly to theatre speech. Would they benefit from more focus on diction and understandability? Yeah, I definitely think so. However, in the end, they have a good product with great public and critical support. And that's certainly not something to distrust.

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