It seems completely oxymoronic to talk about a trailer park version of a Shakespeare play. It also seems like an idea that probably can’t be pulled off without turning hokey and shallow. But put in the deft hands of director Aimée Bruneau, Seattle Shakespeare Company’s comedic version of Taming of the Shrew is wise, witty, and easy to understand—the perfect intro for someone who has limited Shakespeare experience. Sure, it’s a bit over-the-top and predictable at times—think of every single trailer park stereotype you’ve ever heard of—but the actors give real heart to the play, exhibiting believable character development, while providing more than a few laughs along the way.
In the Padua Trailer Park Mama Baptista (the perfectly cast Karen Jo Fairbrook) is raising two daughters. The older one, Kate (Kelly Kitchens), is loud, rebellious and ornery. Bianca (Brenda Joyner) is the beautiful object of affection for more than one of the male neighbors. As a result of Kate’s behavior (and to the chagrin of the suitors), Mama Baptista says that Bianca cannot get married until Kate does. When a wealthy young man, Lucentio (Brian Claudio Smith) comes to town, he too falls in love with Bianca. Likewise, the swaggering, trucker-hat wearing Petruchio (David Quicksall) comes to town to visit an old friend, and agrees to marry Kate in order to improve lifestyle. Mayhem and hilarity ensue as three men court Bianca, and the slyly wise Petruchio aims to break Kate’s outlandish actions.
If any of Shakespeare’s plays are to be set in a trailer park in the south, The Taming of the Shrew is the perfect one. With an outlandish central conflict between a headstrong woman and the man who wants to tame her, it is an easy plot to adapt to a trashy trailer park full of PBR-swigging, wife-beater wearing, constantly-arguing men and women. There isn’t a single character who isn’t believable, and just like an ensemble cast, they all bring something important to the plot, and each one embraces their character, giving them an edge or personality trait that prevents them all from blending together. Ultimately there are no major standouts, because everyone is so stellar, but Quicksall dominates the stage with that swagger, throwing a prideful know-it-all tone to his hillbilly drawl; he is a man who is convinced of his own smarts, which makes his dumbed-down character all the more hilarious. Petruchio’s mesh-jersey-and-camo wearing sidekick Grumio (David S. Hogan) is an absolute gem. He uses body language and facial expressions—scowls, constant karate jumps and howls, military marches—in a way that garners as much laughter as the biting dialogue.
Sets (Craig Wollam) and costumes (K.D. Schill) are over-the-top—in a very good way. From Mama Baptista’s tight leopard spandex and bright blue eyeshadow to Petruchio’s wedding ensemble—two mismatched boots, denim booty shorts and a fur-trimmed tiger print coat—everyone is decked out in their Walmart best. Two trailers complete with pink flamingos, Christmas lights, and every array of junk you can image—are set to rotate, revealing Petruchio’s run-down backwoods camp.
This is a not-to-be-missed production. As a lover of Shakespeare, I was skeptical at first, but by the middle of the first act I was completely sold. Delivering the Elizabethan dialogue in a slow southern twang really does make it easier to understand, and the contemporary (and very specific) setting makes the play relatable—even though it was written more than 400 years ago, everyone can relate to the ups and downs of falling in love.
The Taming of the Shrew runs through May 12. Tickets here.
David Quicksall as Petruchio and Kelly Kitchens as Kate in Seattle Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Chris Bennion.