Taming of the Shrew staggeringly marks the twenty-sixth production that The Porters of Hellsgate have managed to produce, which on its own merits deserves recognition. The never fail to please, and this production was no different.
Choosing to make the setting in the old west bold, but nowhere near as bold or smart as choosing to gender swap the roles. This isn't the first time that I've seen gender roles swapped in a Shakespeare production, in fact it's not even the first time I've seen it done by the Porters of Hellsgate; but I would argue this might be one of the most impactful uses I've seen. I'm always weird about potentially posting spoilers, even for something as old as Shakespeare; but without getting into too many of the details I will say that ending becomes more poignant in this production as a result.
Whoever was in charge of the casting for this production deserves a lot of credit, because while all of the performances are solid, the chemistry between many of the performers really clicks and makes it feel more than the sum of its parts. Having seen it twice as of this writing, I was able to appreciate it all the more the second time. Notable duos would be Petrucio and Grumio, Petrucio and Katherina, but perhaps the most natural pairing was between that of Lucentio and Tranio, played by Julie Lanctot and Lauren Zbylski respectively. Julie Lanctot really sold the earnestness of Lucentio and brought a warmth to the role that was a joy, while Lauren Zbylski was pitch perfect as the opportunistic and clever, though loyal Tranio. While both of them were remarkable on their own, when paired together they had a chemistry that made me think the two of them had really known each other the whole lives. I really hope the two have the chance to work together again, they really feel natural.
I hadn't seen Julie and Lauren together before, but there were Porters members I recognized and was happy to see again. Sean Faye was a terrific choice for Katerina. The character very often comes across as intense and frustrated, and Sean made me feel it. Whitton Frank is a personal favorite who can seemingly play any role expertly from what I've seen, but was a crowd favorite as Grumio, the clever underling forced to play the fool. If there were laughs to be had in this production, I would say it's fair to say that Whitton garnered the biggest of them with her physical comedy and expressive takes.
Another familiar face, though not from a Porters production, was Dawn Adler who played Baptista, the father to Katherina and Bianca. I was excited to see her again, and she did not disappoint and even pulled double duty, going from the more dignified role lead role of Baptista to a bumbling servant later on.
There were a few smaller roles that really deserve to be spotlighted. The roles of both Vincentio, played by Jill Penfold, and the merchant who pretends to be Vincentio, played by Caitlin McColl were both fantastic for completely different reasons. Jill plays the character as someone who is incredulous at the amount of foolishness going on, and that performance really contrasts against the comedy. For her part though, Caitlin McColl is tremendously funny as a frightened merchant who all too quickly becomes extremely comfortable pretending to be a powerful man. Every single one of her lines and mannerisms had me grinning and everyone around me chuckling.
One of the best performances of the night however, was by Lauren Jean Lee in the role of Petruchio. Petruchio has always been a repulsive character but more to the audience than to those around them. Which is why I promise what I'm about to say is said from a place of respect and reverence, but Lauren Jean Lee was absolutely, perfectly, charming and sleazy and charismatic and creepy. She felt manipulative and craven and dangerous, and it really, really worked. It was all perfectly despicable and perfect for the production.
Overall this was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it. Congratulations to everyone involved.