By Daniel Skora
In 2016, Lauren Gunderson was the most produced living playwright in America…and with good reason. Her plays are witty, intellectually stimulating, and contain strong female characters. As far as theatres are concerned, they’ve a practical side too. A good many of her plays are written for a cast of two to four players.
Williamston Theatre is currently presenting “The Taming”, Gunderson’s foray into American politics. Perhaps best described as a comedy with brains, it’s the third play in what Gunderson calls her Shakespearean cycle. It’s based on Shakespeare’s “The Shrew”, but not to worry. The play stands alone and can be enjoyed as is without doing a whole lot of homework beforehand.
Like many of Gunderson plays, “The Taming” requires some dispensing with reality. It opens with Katherine, a Miss Georgia beauty contest winner (Melissa Mercieca) doing her run-through for the Miss America pageant to be held the next day. Katherine is a finalist in the pageant, and as the “talent” part of her qualifications will show, she’s a bundle of American patriotism and political smarts.
The play then switches to the morning after the party of the night before. Two women awaken in the same hotel room in an alcohol fog. Pat (Angela Dawe) is an aide to a Republican Senator. She has become the backbone of his political career and it’s not a stretch to say she’s even more conservative than the Senator himself. Bianca (Alysia Kolascz), is a blogger whose far-left political rants will soon be revealed as the smallest part of her personal crusade. The two rivals from either side of the political fence now find themselves locked together a room with only their ideologies for weapons.
But there’s a referee to see them through their discord. Miss Georgia is determined to move mountains, which in this case means convincing both that a more humane position exists than the extremes they now hold. Here Gunderson creates a play within her play. Pat becomes James Madison while Bianca assumes the men made sizable contributions to the drafting of the Constitution at the First Constitutional Convention. The two men, each with differing views as to what they wanted for their country, went on to discover that compromise is the means to all good political ends. Before the hotel room becomes unlocked, Pat and Bianca will learn much the same.
“The Taming” is a nice mix of straight comedy and political satire. Gunderson again incorporates a technique she has put to good use in some of her other plays: place characters in a historical setting, then have them naively say something that foreshadows a future reality (e.g.: In what context does “Hamilton” now belong to the American people?) Because political satire can sometimes take a moment to be understood by the human mind, some of the play’s humor occasionally gets eclipsed by the relatively fast-paced tempo of the production.
Williamston’s production is well cast by Director Lynn Lammers, the three actresses turning in accomplished performances together and alone. The set (design by Elspeth Williams) is adequate enough to establish the “hotel room/patriotism” aspect of the play, yet discreet enough to let the dialogue shine through. “Politics” is one of those words that can cause people to turn a deaf ear. “The Taming” has more to say than mere political squabble. Its funny its fresh, and deserves to be seen.
Lighting design is by Brian M. Scruggs, sound by Quintessa Gallinat. Costumes are by Holly Iler, props by Michelle Raymond. Stage manager for this production is Stefanie Din.
“The Taming” runs through October 22nd. Tickets can be purchased by phone Tuesday through Friday from Noon to 6:00p.m. by calling 1.517.655.7469, by visiting the Williamston box office, or ordered online up until 24 hours prior to the performance by going online at www.williamstontheatre.org. Williamston Theatre is located at 122 S. Putnam Road in downtown Williamston. If you’re westward bound on I-96, exit at 117