Dark. Squirmy. Brutal. Galling. Backwards. Chilling. A slew of punchy, powerful words ran through my mind, much like the pithy (and punctuated) Tame. on Monday night, as I watched a man dominate a woman into a Christian-prescribed-submission.
Painful. Not the acting, but the content. Tame. flips a beloved Shakespeare comedy—The Taming of the Shrew—into a psychological mind-game that has had my thoughts drifting in and out of Flannery O’Connor stories since seeing it. Yes, I’d give playwright Jonelle Walker a place among a great like O’Connor. For her finely tuned work delves into the human psyche, small town America, sexism, and religion like a hot iron on a cold day.
It is sometime in 1960, and Cat (Jill Tighe) is a Smith-educated beatnik and lesbian from rural, bible-thumping, conservative Anahuac, Texas, where her pious family still resides. Late one night, she turns up in their kitchen unannounced to mixed-emotions and her shocked Mama (Karen Lange). See, Cat is an asshole. Even she admits that. She’s difficult, unstable, maybe even crazy, antagonistic, and hard-to-love. Yet, someone named Emily did love her. But Emily has committed suicide, and now Cat—hollow, devastated, and still brutally honest—is at a loss on where to go. The homestead kitchen seems to be as good a place as any.
But life is not as well as it seems back home. Her sister Bea (Madeline Burrows) has been courting the local youth minister—Patrick (Brendan Edward Kennedy)—a man whose past is a mystery and who has his eyes on unseating Cat’s Daddy (John Stange) to become the family patriarch. Bea and Mama fawn over and defer to Patrick with a squeamish amount of oblivion, but not Cat. Patrick knows he’s got to break her to fully infiltrate the family, so when Mama suggests he conduct “sessions” with Cat to bring her to the Lord, he’s nearly gleeful to sit with her, day in and day out, using both physical and psychological means to make her a brainless, malleable trophy of Christian triumph.
It’s actually a story we know well and have laughed at many times in its original form and re-imaginings (like 10 Things I Hate About You—which I hated, by the way). But Tame. doesn’t beat around the bush in making it clear that the idea women need “breaking” is antiquated and was likely not a healthy course of action even before ladies entered the workforce in droves.
closes December 11, 2016
Details and tickets
This play isn’t driven by actions; it’s thought-heavy to the point that to say much about what does unfold between Cat and Patrick, Patrick and Bea, and Mama and Daddy would give away what makes Tame. so frightening, visceral, and gut wrenching. I’ll just say it will leave you feeling like you need a shower. And a therapist.
Tighe as Cat does her job to perfection—playing a character that you don’t always like but that you suddenly, shockingly realize is the only one you are rooting for. To do so is to root for honesty and progress. Not hypocrisy and any of those nasty –isms, particularly ones exercised to propagate the idea that there is a lesser sex. It takes guts and raw talent to play the chain smoking Cat. Tighe is brilliant.
Kennedy as Patrick looks easy-going and likeable and speaks with an aw-shucks type of drawl meant to soothe fears even as his actual words stoke them. But Kennedy’s Patrick is sinister; he doesn’t respond to Bea’s “I love you” in kind and steals thinly veiled glances at his future sister-in-law Cat’s bare breasts like a boy with his hand in a cookie jar. Kennedy is brilliant.
Cat and Patrick have a weird sexual energy that, if nothing else, complicates your view of what is and isn’t happening between them. Lange, Burrows, and Stange circle them in characters just as deep and nuanced so that you don’t know whether to label them accomplices in Cat’s demise or victims in Patrick’s scheme. They are all brilliant. And, as a cast, they hold your gaze hostage when you most want to look away.
I realize that I’ve said “I don’t know” or “You don’t know” a lot and not divulged many details about the actual on-goings in Tame., but, trust me that this is a 5 star play.
And, trust me that it might make you uncomfortable. That you may hate it. Because it will challenge you, not because of its execution, which is simple, effective, and precise—thanks to director Angela Kay Pirko—but because it holds a mirror up to America’s past and, yet, reflects its present.
Tame. by Jonelle Walker. Directed by Angela Kay Pirko. Featuring Jill Tighe, Karen Lange, Madeline Burrows, John Stange, and Brendan Edward Kennedy. Creative Team and Production Crew: Eric McMorris (Set Designer), E-hui Woo (Lighting Designer), Danielle Preston (Costume Designer), Mehdi Raoufi (Sound Designer), Becky Mezzanotte (Props Designer), Laura Schlachtmeyer (Stage Manager), Maegan Clearwood (Production Dramaturg), Brett Steven Abelman (Assistant Dramaturg), Christine Hirrel (Vocal Coach), Danny Cackley (Violence/Fight Choreographer), DJ Corey Photography (Promotion and Production Photography), and Jacqueline Chenault (Website Manager) . Produced by WSC Avant Bard. Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.