The shoe winds up on the other foot in The Tamer Tamed, a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
It was written by John Fletcher, one of the Bard’s contemporaries, and it opened Friday at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center in the hands of the Stolen Shakespeare Guild.
The two plays comprise the company’s Stolen Shakespeare Festival, with performances of both being offered during the next two weekends.
Tamer checks in on Petruchio (Andrew Manning), the brave lover who did the taming in Shrew, a few years after his marriage to Kate. Sadly, Kate has gone to be with Hamlet by the time of Fletcher’s play, so Petruchio is an eligible widower. Stepping into that void is Maria (Karen Matheny), who becomes Petruchio’s second wife — with a few strings attached.
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With the help of some heavy lobbying by Kate’s sister, Bianca (Samantha Snow), Maria decides to lay down a set of conditions for Petruchio. He must clean up his act or stay out of the bridal boudoir.
At this point, the play borrows a plot device from the ancient Greeks. Maria and Bianca are able to convince all the women of the town to join her protest. They all agree to ban their husbands from their bedrooms until they adhere to Maria’s vaguely stated agenda for male improvement.
That is basically the same plot as Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Except in that play, the women of Greece have a very clearly defined goal of stopping their men from waging war.
Stealing from a dead Greek was kind of cheap shot for Fletcher. But there was some legitimacy to his theft of Shakespeare’s story and characters. Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare on some plays, and replaced the Bard as the favored playwright of the troupe the King’s Men after Shakespeare’s death.
The two works, obviously, have a lot in common. They are both rowdy, bawdy plays that exploit the battle of the sexes for laughs. The primary difference between them is that Shrew is a comedy and Tamer (full title: The Woman’s Prize or the Tamer Tamed) is a farce, especially in this broadly-played production directed by SSG founders and artistic directors Jason and Lauren Morgan.
The show is loud, manic and doesn’t bother to think too much — which are generally attributes for low-aimed comedies.
You will probably not be surprised to learn that this romp does not have as many winning qualities as Shrew.
Although it lacks the cleverness and finesse of its predecessor, it does have a great spirit of fun. And the joys of this production are enhanced greatly by seeing it before or after its prequel. It is a rare treat to see actors playing similar (or, sometimes, exactly the same) characters in two shows written by different playwrights.
The strengths in Tamer are the same as those found in SSG’s Shrew. The acting, across the cast, is good to exceptional, with Matheny leading the way. She is exceeding smooth and even in creating Maria. And Manning plays off of her well as a consistently overwhelmed Petruchio.
The show also has many of the outstanding costumes and the same set design created for both productions by Lauren Morgan.
The one surprising thing about the script is how far ahead of his times Fletcher seems to be. In this text from the early 17th century, he makes a bold case for gender equality and takes a stand against domestic violence.
Where Kate took (and dished out) a lot of physical abuse, Maria tells Petruchio flatly that the first time he raises his hand to her will be his last. And she means it.
Tamer’s main weakness is in not making a clearer statement of its motivations. We know the women are upset, but Fletcher never articulates why they have their knickers in a knot well enough.
This show, however, does not want or need a great deal of scrutiny. It is best enjoyed in close comparison with its better-known companion, without looking too closely at its details.