Friday, Sept. 24, 2010

Ensemble Dynamics: Carte Blanche's Taming of the Shrew

Ensemble Compensates On An off Opening Night For Petruchio

By Russ Bickerstaff
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There was a crispness to the early autumn air south of downtown. It was opening night of Carte Blanche’s Studios’ somewhat stylish staging of The Taming of the Shrew. As things began to get rolling, it became apparent that Mike Keiley was having an off night. The distinct style of his stage presence was visible through a somewhat low-energy performance. There were extended moments where Keiley almost seemed to lose itself in the substance of the text. The big problem with this was the fact that Keiley is playing Petruchio—one half of the comedy’s central romance.

The remarkable thing about Keiley’s off night was the fact that the rest of the ensemble was good enough to offset a bad night for Keiley. Director James Dragolovich is developing a really solid core of regular actors. There’s a dynamic between the regulars that allows any single performance to overcome the individual difficulties that sometimes crop-up during the run of a show. Keiley’s Petrucho may not have been perfectly in synch with Liv Mueller’s Katherine, but the interaction between Keiley and fellow Carte Blanche regulars Clayton Hamburg (Grumio) and Michael Traynor (Hortensio) had a brilliantly physical comic dimension to it. A good group of core actors helped make The Milwaukee Rep such a consistently good company under the direction of Joseph Hanreddy.  

The physical end of the comedy is really impressive, particularly for those willing to brave the front row. Comic or not, fight choreography has a tendency to feel much more compelling in smaller productions than it does with professional Equity actors. . . the physical comedy here is cleverly explosive. Sit in the front row and you’re kind of surrounded by it. Dragolovich and company have worked out the physical dimensions of the production to a respectable precision. It ends up being fun just watching how chaotic the action looks and how close the action comes to spilling over into the front row without actually breaking the plane of the fourth wall.

For her part, Liv Mueller makes for a remarkably strong, sweetly aggressive Katherine. Her appearance works well against the contemporary patchwork feel of Katrina Greguska’s costuming. Mueller’s Betty Page-style haircut gave a retro innocence that was offset by a pair of arm tattoos, (one of which bears the likeness of Betty Boop, as I recall.) There’s a captivating aggressive strength about her that counteract some of the misogynistic feel that can develop in productions of Shrew. Keiley was playing Petruchio as a bit more of a straight ahead hero than the manipulative cad he can sometimes come across as, which makes for an chemistry between them. It would be interesting to see how that works out on a better night for Keiley.

Other notable performances had an opportunity to take on a more central role here. Jordan Gwiazdowski’s Tranio has a striking confidence about him in his efforts to aid Lucentio (Kyle Stephanski) in winning the love of Bianca. Jen Gaul adds compelling bits of personality to her performance as Katherine.  

Carte Blanche Studios’ production of The Taming of The Shrew runs through October 26th at Carte Blanche’s space on 1024 South 5th Street.

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