Sylvia Plath, the quintessential female voice in the face of 20th century patriarchy, serves as a chilling foil to the heroine in Jonelle Walker’s TAME. The tragic poet’s voice fills the space during scene changes, reminding the audience of the constrictive world in which her onstage counterpart is struggling to survive.
Cat, played with strength and tenderness by Haely Jardas, lives 400 years ahead of William Shakespeare’s rebellious Katarina, but as Blind Pug Arts Collective’s production proves, questions of femininity, conformity, and power are as poignant as ever.
Walker’s adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew centers on Cat, a chain-smoking, depressive beatnik who returns home after failing to immortalize herself as a poet in New York City. Home is a bubble of Southern domestic bliss, and when Cat’s uncouth ways clash with her family’s conservative ideals, Patrick, a local minister (Henry LaGue) is called to rein her in.
The story is completely immersed in the 1960s—from the updated language to poofy hairstyles and antique typewriter—and director Medha Marsten and dramaturg Jeff Gan have a firm grasp of the uncompromising world in which Cat is struggling to thrive.
Although the storytelling is somewhat restricted by the minimal set and costume pieces—shifts in time and place, for example, are only indicated in the dialogue, making it difficult to follow exactly where and how quickly the story progresses—the production team does an accomplished job of transporting the audience into 1960s suburbia. Ultimately, the household becomes a suffocating microcosm of the time period’s heated political atmosphere—making the stakes for Cat’s independence greater than ever.
by Jonelle Walker
1021 7th Street NW 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20001
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Bea serves as a welcome alleviation from her sister’s darker moments, O’Malley delivering many of the play’s more humorous lines with an endearing Southern twang. She balances this silliness with depth and simplicity, portraying what could easily be a caricatured Southern belle as a complex, honest young woman. Vacus, Cat’s “tamer” and Bea’s fiancée, embodies the patriarchal ideals of his world while, to his immense credit, coming across as compelling, even sympathetic at times. He holds his own against Cat’s ferocity with unwavering, subdued, and occasionally terrifying fortitude, making their scenes together the most hypnotizing by far.
Although the play is not yet polished—the plot occasionally verges from believability, breaking with the characters’ personalities and beliefs—the dialogue is crisp and engaging. Shakespeare’s famous fight scenes are updated with verve, and the production manages to transport a centuries-old story into 1960s America while still raising questions that are unequivocally now.