Riverside Theatre — through Sunday, Nov. 13
In 2013, the United States was a seemingly very different place. It had one thing in common with our country today, however: It felt as though all of the partisan bickering couldn’t possibly get any worse. In October of that year, the government shut down for the third-longest period in history — and it hit home, as the first such period in which I had friends affected (government employees who were furloughed). Many in the U.S. were certain — not for the first time, and not for the last — that the country would never recover.
It was in response to that shutdown that Lauren Gunderson wrote The Taming. And it is in response to another apparently insurmountable moment that Riverside Theatre performs it now. The Taming is a surreal tale, with loose origins in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, that pillories all stripes of political absolutism and asks the risky question: If things aren’t going the way we want them to, why don’t we do a re-write?
The plot centers around three women from wildly different backgrounds but with similar levels of passion for their country. Bianca (Cara Clonch Viner) is a young upstart liberal rabble-rouser, willing to upend the establishment to champion her pet cause. Patricia (Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers) is a fierce and stalwartly conservative aide to a Republican senator, willing to stop at nothing to maintain the status quo long enough to get her bill passed. Katherine, aka Miss Georgia (Jordan Arnold), is the irrepressible beauty queen who might just be insane, who holds them both captive in an attempt to fix the state of the nation.
All three actresses are note-perfect in their roles, although the script offers certain limitations. Mooers has the greatest opportunity to show off the depth of her skills, as her Patricia is given the greatest opportunity for growth. She is given, in fact, an entire scene-long dream sequence in which to develop. Mooers doesn’t waste a second. Particularly, her moments of realization about her career trajectory and her shared moments of fangirling over James Madison with Miss Georgia are equally stunning.
Arnold, as Katherine, is blessed with the chance to reveal the breath of her abilities. Miss Georgia is the quintessential not-who-she-seems beauty queen, and Arnold is excellent at revealing the fragility and the desperation behind her poised exterior. Moreover, the aforementioned dream sequence has several bizarre, non-sequitur touches that seem out of place, but are worthwhile if only because they allow Arnold the chance to push the limits of her considerable comic chops.
As Bianca, Viner gives a no-less polished performance, but she’s a bit hamstrung by both the narrowness and the silliness of the role. She is at her best in the earlier parts of the show, when Bianca and Patricia are first discovering one another. The character grows thin, however. The challenges faced by both in the resolution of the character and in the plot make a lot more sense when viewed through the lens of Shakespeare’s problematic Shrew.
Ultimately, though, those textual issues will be no more than a blip on your radar when watching this show. The joy the actresses exude and the chemistry between them make any questions fade away, a true testament to the deft touch of director Angie Toomsen. If these women are the future, then our country’s in good hands.
If you love your country, go see this play. If you hate this country, go see this play. If you don’t give a crap about the U.S. but enjoy seeing hilarious women at the tops of their games, go see this play. The Taming runs two more weekends at Riverside Theatre, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12–30.