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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Play's the Thing - Taming of the Shrew presented by Freewill Players

It's July in Edmonton, that means it's time for the Freewill Shakespeare Festival.  Thanks to a ripped canopy at Hawreluk Park, the entertainment has moved to a new, temporary, location and the presentation of a single production but let that not dissuade you from attending, as they serve up an excellently delivered, fun-filled night. This year the performance of Taming of the Shrew is held at the Myer Horowitz Theatre in the University of Alberta Student's Union Building.  Your best bet for parking is in Stadium and they have thoughtfully provided signage to guide you to the theatre around the construction. The company has done their best to retain those familiar things that could be easily transported from the park to this new theatre space - the 50/50 Sellers and FOH staff all looked very familiar.

Although Taming of the Shrew is far from my favorite Shakespeare play, there are so many things that made this a delightful evening of theatre.  First of all, there was a real nod to the members of the company as members of Edmonton's Artistic Community.  These are not just actors on the the stage, but rather people that we enjoy seeing like old friends and true contributors to the overall artistic scene and they have been for a number of years.  Several 'original' company members are on the stage, and in the opening sequence they poke fun at themselves and bring us all into the joke.  A running gag with Julian Arnold is set up and this carries through the show.  We get a sense of both the characters these actors will play as well as hints about what they might be like in their 'real' lives off the stage.  Overall, the tone is light and there are subtle nods to the unusual situation of this season and how hard they are working to ensure that they will not disappoint their audience.  It's a generous feeling and a reminder of where the festival came from and where it's been and where it will return.

When the production gets going it is a real fun ride.  James MacDonald as Petruchio and Mary Hulbert as Kate are well-matched and excellently cast.  They are an attractive couple and both have a strength and charm that makes you root for them as a couple. I loved that each of them seemed to have a journey beyond just the 'taming'. Each starts with a number of questionable qualities but throughout the course of the play, those rough exteriors are chipped away revealing much more likable people. The rest of the cast is equally delightful. Bianca (Bobbi Goddard) and her suitors (Jamie Cavanagh, John Wright and Nathan Cuckow) and their accompanying servants (Sheldon Elter, and Patrick Lundeen) are full of fun in their hi-jinks. It's a testament to the depth of this company to see people who have anchored shows like Lear and Julius Caesar and Midsummer Night's Dream step up to bring their considerable talents to make for a show with no weak links. And although we are not in the park, the production's musical score and streamlined set give it a soft, light feeling that almost make you feel like you were outside on a summer's evening. 

This production moves quickly from laugh to laugh and was a wonderful way to spend an evening.  Don't miss it!

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