"The Taming" at Shaker Bridge Theatre
“Madcap and masterful” – The Herald
“Bella Muller plays Kate in her Shaker Bridge debut and her portrayal is Shakespearean in size and power.” – The Herald
Tweetering, pandashrews and undying giddiness for James Madison – what else could you expect to find at a Miss America pageant? In this hilarious, raucous, all-female “power play” inspired by Shakespeare’s Shrew, contestant Katherine has political aspirations to match her beauty pageant ambitions. All she needs to revolutionize the American government is the help of one ultra-conservative senator’s aide on the cusp of a career breakthrough, and one bleeding-heart liberal blogger who will do anything for her cause. Well, that and a semi-historically accurate ether trip. Here’s lookin’ at you, America.
“The Taming” by Lauren Gunderson is a part of her Shakespeare series wherein she wrote many plays loosely based around a Shakespeare romp. Lauren Gunderson has been the #1 produced playwright (besides Shakespeare) since 2016 – yet why does no one know who she is? Admittedly, I hadn’t read a single one of her works until I received an appointment for Katherine at Shaker Bridge. When I read the play something in my brain clicked. She wrote in a language I specifically understood but hadn’t recognized before. Now I say language because this specific play is a symphonic feat unto itself. With three women bantering for over 90 minutes straight, her emphasis on timing is unparalleled. The script has four layers of dialogue – that of normal pace and intensity, really trying to make your point, MAKING AN EMPHATIC POINT, AND LITERALLY ENDING THE CONVERSATION!!!
I had the distinct pleasure of sharing the stage with Susan Haefner and Rebecca White. Our connection on and off the stage was electric and I am aware of how rare that is. To play with two women I deeply respect – women who surprise me and battle me in ways I couldn’t expect – is something I haven’t encountered before. Our collective power was something not to be trifled with.
I haven't connected with a character like Katherine before, because from my vantage point, I’ve never seen a woman written like her before. Katherine is not just one trope of woman, as I am often confronted with on the stage, because in real life that just doesn’t exist - and Lauren Gunderson recognized that. Women can be beautiful and mischievous and politically dynamic. They can commit huge crimes and still have plans to save humanity. And when women learn to work together instead of against each other great change can happen.
In today’s political climate, it can feel rather risky to open our personal wounds in a public format. You could feel the tension in the audience at the start of each performance. We start right out of the gate hurling insults at either side and eventually the audience sees the humanity in each other and the stupidity in the polarization of their “sides” – letting loose the laughter and pain they have been holding in. The space at Shaker Bridge Theater is extremely intimate and the nature of the play lends itself to that – Katherine loving to reference people in the audience.
Researching this role, I found myself spending a couple of weeks in the New York Public Library research section. Looking into the platform of the Miss America Pageant and its attempt to squash women into the “ideal” mold - trying to figure out how women have taken that platform for their own devices. Katherine’s political stance in the show comes from Larry Sabato’s “A More Perfect Constitution” which presents earth changing ideas about our government and what is possible with some rewriting.
Katherine reminded me what a woman is capable of. She challenged me to take what people think of you and use it to your advantage – to not be afraid to show people how powerful you are. Though a marathon, I was reluctant to see this production go. I hope to see Katherine again and speak Lauren Gunderson’s language in a very near future.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
– James Madison