Rubber City Theatre's world-premiere play "TAME," loosely based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew,'' offers messages about acceptance, unconditional love and helping others through their struggles.

The play, written by local playwright Josy Jones as the first phase of the theater's Knight Arts-funded Shakesqueer Project, reimagines Shakespeare's comedy through contemporary LGBTQ+ characters. The result, rather than the original sexist comedy about a husband metaphorically beating the shrewishness out of his wife, is a story aimed at empowering young adults who have suffered loss, are striving to find love or are struggling with their sexual identity.

"TAME," which features a cast of 10 directed by Dane Leasure, is being performed at Rubber City's new location at WhiteSpace Creative on Furnace Street in Akron. Construction delays in the adjacent building where Rubber City will soon be permanently housed have necessitated staging this play in WhiteSpace's cheery, airy bistro area.

In this story, Jones keeps the names of sister characters Katherina and Bianca but changes their father and love interests' names. Their father Baptista Minola is now Benedict Minor and Petruchio, who's pushed into wooing Katherina in Shakespeare's original story, is now the female character Porter.

In the original play, one of the characters, Lucentio, arrived in Padua to attend college. Now, that character is Lucian, played by Tyler Barhorst, and the setting is Akron and the University of Akron.

Chennelle Bryant-Harris plays a very forceful and high-energy character as Porter, a lesbian, who, despite being paid by Benedict to be a friend to his highly disliked daughter Kat, genuinely likes her. Katie Wells' Kat isn't a shrew here: She's a brooding, lonely artist who's still mourning the death of her mother.

In this modernized tale, Lucian has two dads and the character Graham, played by transgender actor Emerson Thoenen in his stage debut, is a transgender male student struggling with his cruel father's lack of acceptance.

RCT also brings Shakespeare's story into the 21st century through technology, giving audience members a chance to see the college-age characters' texts to each other by using an app from their seats as the play unfolds.

In "TAME," which may be best termed a dramedy, Jones drops all of the original servant characters. She also adds a wallop of girl power by making Bianca (Kelsey Tomlinson) a brainy, serious student. 

In this play, Bianca is one of the strongest characters who sets her ignorant father straight about accepting his other daughter's sexuality.

Jones pays homage to one of the original play's disguised characters and at the same time turns a key story line on its end: In "TAME" Lucian disguises himself as a girl in order to be tutored by the woman he loves, Bianca, while Shakespeare's parallel, love-struck Lucentio disguised himself as a Latin tutor FOR Bianca.

There's nothing subtle about Jones' writing style in "TAME," including its blatantly anti-gay characters. Some story lines are resolved hastily, while others remain unresolved.

That makes the storytelling feel rather simplistic, as if were created as a young people's special on accepting people of all orientations. That approach would be fine if the show weren't recommended for audience members ages 14 and up, due to strong language and mature content.

In this modern retelling, Kat's not really the one who's tamed. The mouthy, impatient Porter must learn to let others figure things out in their own time and own way.

The thing that's really being tamed here is closed-mindedness, encapsulated by Porter in the strongest line in the play: "No one can decide who you are for you."

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.