Review: Sound Track, Political Nuance Mark Gritty City’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’

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Katherine (Tomorrow Page) teaches Bianca (Zaria Stanton), left, and Widow (Noel Laulu), right, a lesson about obedience to their masters while the rest of the party looks on. Is marital harmony the result of physical abuse? Is Kate suffering from PTSD or Battered Wives Syndrome? Photo courtesy of Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre.

There are some stories that no matter how they’re cast or recast, what’s wrong stays wrong until certain directors give the work a nuanced tweak that makes a distinct political difference.

“The Taming of the Shrew” by William Shakespeare is such a work. One tames horses and dogs, not people, yet not only is Katherine “tamed,” she is first auctioned off to the man who can make her presentable to society where rules for behavior are governed by a status quo set by men, often agreed upon by other women.

In Oakland-based Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre, the race and gender binaries are absent, yet the shadow still lingers—patriarchy, partner violence, sexual exploitation. The genius in this marvelous production is the way, despite its theology, alternative spiritual systems have their creative way evident in dance – tango– and in culture – Yoruba — and in the production’s creative soundtrack.  The conjure continues in the lobby where Haitian visual artist, Marc Eddy’s beautiful pen and ink drawings further a discourse started on stage in Baptista’s living room.

Robert Paige’s Baptista is a single father of two very different daughters. Zaria Stanton’s Bianca just wants to be free to woo her Lucentia, actor Nijzah Waterman’s wily privileged daughter.

Actress Tomorrow Page’s Katherine challenges all notions of seduction whether this is amorous or intellectual. She dons her gloves, tucks her chin and refuses to be dominated. Caught in a socially constructed web, what’s a person to do? That this is a comedy gives a bit of relief, even if we are left stumbling, a bit off balance in the end— What just happened? Suggestion, if you don’t know the story read the notes. The first act speeds by in Shakespearean (read King James) language most audiences probably do not understand.

When her father turns her over to a stranger, there is none to help her. Petruchio (Jordan Lopez) starves her, makes her wear the same clothes daily . . . keeps her away from family and friends. He humiliates her and Kate lets him so that she can leave the physical prison he has erected around her. It is a situation some of us find ourselves in all too often as we walk precipices between promotion and termination, safety and danger, life and death. Compromise is often the best route given such circumstances. The task is to not lose oneself in the process. In this iteration of Shrew, I think Kate remains stuck; there is a twinkle in both husband and wife’s eyes, but if you blink you could miss it.

Vinnie Bellz, Oakland musician and producer’s mixed soundtrack — a collaboration with Krombein where Argentinian tango meets Nigerian AfroBeat—should be published. The looped tapestry is so brilliant if you think you know tango, as in tangled web, this vibe is one you don’t want to miss especially when Gritty City ensemble dancers weave the transitions.

Gritty City Rep’s ‘Shrew’ is so hip and fun and the choreography is also great. Some of the cast, like Keli’i Salvador (Vincentio, Jose) have visible skills.

Don’t miss Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s battle of the sexes, “The Taming of the Shrew” at The Flight Deck in downtown Oakland at 1540 Broadway through this weekend, May 23-25, 8:00 p.m.  Visit https://www.grittycityrep.org/  Listen to an interview with the director, Lindsay Krumbein and actor, Nijzah Waterman (Lucentia) on Wanda’s Picks, May 1, 2019: http://tobtr.com/11292775

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