For most theatre people I know, myself included, the eve of the Tony Awards is a major holiday. Months ahead we anticipate the nominations and potential winners of each category. This past Sunday, I opted out of my usual yearly Tony Award viewing experience to see the Station’s The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, with direction by Laura Alcantara. I have discovered that the typical humble crowd on Sunday evenings provides for an intimate and enjoyable night, much like the one I had at The Taming of the Shrew.

Taming is generally known modernly as one of Shakespeare’s most prominent comedies. Perhaps you’ve seen popular late ‘90s film Ten Things I Hate About You. Or perhaps you’ve heard of the musical Kiss Me, Kate. The title itself stems from lines repeated over and over by Shakespeare's original character Petruchio. And though it did not pick up any Tonys this past Sunday, Kiss Me, Kate received some nods with four nominations for it’s 2019 revival, including Best Revival of a Musical. Kate was also recently performed at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts by Lyric Theatre at Illinois. (Click here to read about that performance.) Like in The Taming of the Shrew, Kate follows simultaneous plots; two zesty lovers and men battling it out for the hand of a fair maiden.

Mindy Smith led the cast of eleven in the titular role. Smith's Kate is as big and bold as her 1980s-inspired hairstyle. Using the suave and cool influence of musician Prince, Kate has a tongue of a firecracker that is equally matched by her suitor Petruchio, portrayed by Mathew Green. I attended the production with local theatre artist Ashton Goodly, who best put it into words: Shakespeare paints Kate and Petruchio as two competing antagonists.

The production's eclectic ensemble included Lincoln Machula as Kate's wealthy father Baptista, Wesley Bennett as the charming but sly Lucentio, Celia Mueller as middle-man Tranio, Raymond Watson as welcoming Biondello, and Mary Rose Cottingham as The Widow. A key supporting performance came from Laura Welle's Hortensio. Both my colleague Goodly and I agreed that Welle's portrayal reminded us a bit of Draco Malfoy. To be fair, Hortensio's costume did feature a Slytherin-like emerald vest.

Aside from the subtle Harry Potter vibes, the influence of the artist Prince appeared through the swagger of the characters and the production’s overall design. The purple and pink — or rather, raspberry — walls were emphasized with nostalgic blunt paint strokes. Through the transitions, Prince's great 1980s musical hits were pumped through the speakers.

The fashion aesthetic reflected that of Prince as well. Kate’s spunky array of spiky necklaces added some metal to the mix, while Petruchio’s ruffled white bib paired with a lacy skirt and necklace blurred the lines of gender in dress. Other standout costume pieces included the blinged out gold boat shoes that Matt Hester wore with a black and gold tracksuit as the pompous neighbor Gremio, and the red scarf ensemble worn by Parker Evans as rockstar Petruchio’s "groupie" Grumio.

Criticism of this play typically involves this play's treatment of women. I can see how that would be valid considering traditional gender roles are established through the language, and the whole idea of women being “tamed” by men is clearly outdated in these present times. While there are definitely some cringe moments that are unavoidable due to the language, I found Alcantara's intent as director was to reclaim them for the women in the story.

Alcantara tailors the story well to spotlight the women’s power over the men, suggesting that the Shrew’ has really been the men of the story all along. This is demonstrated when Kate’s younger sister Bianca, portrayed by Jordan Needham, easily takes advantage of her father’s old school views on women. To get away with her antics, she disguises her cunning laughter for bubbling tears. She takes advantage of the system and plays the game to her own benefit, finding true love with the handsome Lucentio.

In the end all be all moment of the play, Kate is literally compensated for her troubles dealing with an array of shrewish men. Flipping the narrative upside on the head, Kate receives a purse of money — her own dowry — which signifies how she has played the game and tamed both her shrew husband, Petruchio, and her shrew father, Baptista.

All in all, The Taming of the Shrew made for an entertaining night of theatre. Watching the schemes of each character play out was hilarious, especially with the men's various attempts to woo and establish dominance over one another backfiring. Shakespeare’s original story was creatively deconstructed and reconstructed in a contemporary fashion with a funky 1980s Prince spin. The confines of gender roles and expectations were explored in a way that revitalized the archaic text. Like the beliefs of society, stories shape and transform time and time again.

The Taming of the Shrew
The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre
223 N Broadway Ave
Urbana
June 6-22
All shows at 7:30 p.m.; June 22nd at 3 p.m.
No performance June 16th
Tickets: $15 regular, $10 students + senior
Order tickets online here

All photos by Jesse Folks