First produced in 2013, “The Taming” mashes up our country’s history and modern sensibilities, à la Broadway’s “Hamilton.”
If you think our current political cycle is extreme, wacky, and unpredictable, then Marin Shakespeare’s production of Lauren Gunderson’s farce, “The Taming,” is for you.
It makes perfect sense that George Washington and James Madison could be fist bumping bros, and even more sense that a beauty queen could aspire to change the Constitution. Gunderson shows that decisions—whether picking a beauty queen or defining a Bill of Rights—are born of messy conflict, collaboration, and compromise.
As the play begins we are in the audience of an All-American beauty pageant, resplendent with sparkly and sequined red, white, and blue costumes and flags with Sousa music blaring, and many flags waving. (The costumes are clever, in particular the body suits that become flags when an arm is extended.) All eyes are on Miss Georgia who is not only beautiful but intelligent and quite strategic.
We then see three women crammed in a hotel room. They make an unlikely and combustible trio: Patricia (Katie Rubin), the strong, articulate, extremely conservative and uptight aide to a Republican senator and a big fan of James Madison; Bianca (Monica Ho), an emotional, impassioned, and intense bleeding heart full of liberal angst; and Katherine (Tristan Cunningham), the strong Miss Georgia who has ideas for working with both of these women to promote her idea of revising the Constitution to give voice to those who were not there in the original decision making: women, minorities, and the disenfranchised.
Katherine, Patricia, and Bianca fall into nonstop, rapid-fire, and witty banter marked by precise and hilarious physical comedy full of deadpans and double takes. Each character eventually reveals what is most important to them. Katherine, the beauty queen, has engineered this psychic upheaval to show that ideas are not set in biblical stone and that to be relevant, ideas must grow and change.
“The Taming” recalls Clare Booth Luce’s cutting and catty play and film “The Women,” and it is interesting to note that following her successful writing career, Luce herself entered politics as a forceful and conservative Republican.
The second act moves more quickly as we meet the “father of the Bill of Rights,” James Madison (Katie Rubin), George Washington (Tristan Cunningham) and Southern congressman Thomas Pinckney (Monica Ho), engaged in similar banter and maneuvering. We see that politics was, is, and always will be, messy, and that the U.S. constitution has always been a work in progress, the product of perpetual arguments and reluctant compromises. Rubin, Cunningham, and Ho are a lot of fun to watch as they swagger in 18th Century men’s tights and ill-fitting white wigs, trying to outdo each other’s rhetoric.
We then return to the pageant and sense that the rules are changing. In a cacophonous parody of the talent segment, several contestants at one time perform their own act of tap dancing, singing, or dancing as Miss Georgia emerges as the only one with clarity. She wins that pageant, but that’s only the beginning.
“The Taming” is performed on an open-air stage. You can plan a picnic but be sure to dress warmly.
“The Taming” continues at Forest Meadows Amphitheater on the campus of Dominican University through July 17, 2016. For further information, click here.
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“The Taming” by Lauren Gunderson. Produced by Marin Shakespeare Company. Director: Robert Currier. Costumes: Tammy Berlin. Lighting: David Lam. Set: Jackson Currier.
Katherine/George Washington: Tristan Cunningham. Patricia/James Madison: Katie Rubin. Bianca/Thomas Pinckney: Monica Ho.