“The Taming of the Shrew” is a play within a play in which an Italian beggar-turned-lord is taught how to act as a noble by those who share his new status. The story they tell the man holds two sisters at the center of its conflict — one fair and gracious, the other immodestly ill-tempered. As is to be expected, a slew of suitors show up to ask for the former’s hand in marriage, but none of them are able to marry her until the elder sister has been wooed. One man, who is attracted to the elder sister’s wealth rather than her personality, takes on the challenge. So begins William Shakespeare’s classic comedy.
On Sunday, the Brown Box Theatre Project brought Padua to life at the Atlantic Wharf’s Waterfront Square in South Boston. The public was able to attend the show free of charge as the production was put on with the support of many donors. According to the company’s website, over 70 percent of Brown Box’s yearly budget comes from active community members who are committed to seeing the performers’ work on display.
Part of the appeal of that work comes from Brown Box’s unconventional production practices. For example, instead of assigning each role according to their originally-prescribed gender, the cast of “The Taming of the Shrew” was made up of only a single man and nine women.
Cameron Gosselin, a veteran Brown Box performer, returned to the stage as the only male actor. He was cast as Christopher Sly, the aforementioned beggar, and also as Petruchio of Verona, the supposed “tamer” of disobedient women. Leading ladies Gigi Watson and Margaret Clark took on the roles of Katherine and Bianca Minola, respectively.
The casting plays into Brown Box’s mission “to bring high-quality theatre to communities that otherwise lack access to the performing arts … to bring down barriers that separate potential audiences from live theatre and to introduce the performing arts to the widest audience possible,” its website states.
In the show’s program, Brown Box shared the following: “Based on our casting, gender inequality becomes significantly more highlighted in our production, and the entire cast, with the exception of Sly, is united in [its] efforts to prove the indecency of Sly’s chauvinism.”
As many are familiar with the play’s plot, Petruchio’s bad-mouthed, anti-feminist behavior is expected and is further highlighted when he conquers the “beast,” Katherine Minola. It was the nine women, though, whose performances sincerely worked to portray gender inequality. And this is where the true brilliance of this production lay.
After all, Shakespeare is only complex when it comes to his prose — the setting, props and costumes used in the production were quite modest. True to its name, the Brown Box Theatre Project set the scene for each act using large, brown boxes. The boxes were opened to reveal rooms quaintly decorated with hats all over the walls, which were worn by the “men” in the play to distinguish them from the female characters.
The lighting was also plain and consistent throughout the performance. Seeing as the show took place after sunset, the lighting’s only purpose was to show the actors’ faces, as opposed to forcefully eliciting a reaction from the audience. Simple aspects of the play such as Baptista Minola’s well-acted thrill in knowing that his eldest daughter’s hand is in-demand is enough to inspire the mood of a scene.
Michelle Rubich (Tranio), Jennifer Morotto (Baptista), Austyn Davis (Lucentio), Roisin Dowling (Hortensio) and Margaret Clark were among those who made their debut with Brown Box with the production, yet the energy they brought to the stage gave the impression that all were veteran members. The chemistry they shared existed as if they had all known one another for several years. Though a feeling of community was not present in Padua, it was felt throughout the Bostonian audience.