Given the times, Lauren Gunderson’s new play, “The Taming,” should be spot-on timely.
In the world-premiere staging of “The Taming” at the nicely refurbished ArtsWest Playhouse (the play is getting a simultaneous debut from San Francisco’s Crowded Fire Theater), an ultraconservative aide to a GOP senator squares off with an equally intransigent lefty blogger.
While they’re held hostage together in a hotel room, with neither budging an inch in their vociferous opinions and nasty schemes, is there any way to break the ideological stalemate? Can our severely divided democracy be saved?
Gunderson’s ambitious feminist comedy, which is very lightly patterned after Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” suggests that it’s all a matter of, you know, just rewriting the Constitution in ways we can all agree on. Like dumping the Electoral College.
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Whether that’s proffered as a serious game plan for finding common ground, or a purely tongue-in-cheek gambit, “The Taming” (the least engaging of the three Gunderson scripts ArtsWest has presented) confuses tedious motormouth bickering with politically savvy satire.
The current standoff between our two houses of Congress, which has led to a federal government shutdown at the edge of a fiscal cliff, is vaguely mirrored in the shrill squabbling between blogger Bianca (Anna Townes) and slick GOP operative Patricia (Dayo Anderson).
To up the feminist ante, maybe, both women are trash-talking lesbians. Neither is a political genius, given that Bianca’s big cause is saving a certain breed of disease-carrying rodent, and Patricia doesn’t know her Tea Party-leaning boss is having a hot affair right under her nose with an intern. These are gals who also get hysterical when parted from their digital communication devices.
Who can save this toxic forced marriage of warring factions from cataclysmic national divorce? A flag-waving, Georgia peach beauty contestant (Justine Rose Stillwell), that’s who.
Did you know that not all beauty queens are airheads? This babe seems like one, but she’s a constitutional law expert who magically transports Bianca and Patricia back to the Constitutional Convention, and transforms them into a pair of Founding Fathers, James Madison and Charles Pinckney.
Somehow, these 18th-century pols (who swear like rappers) manage to reach a truce under the influence of Miss Georgia-as-George-Washington, though one is rabidly proslavery and the other isn’t. Hey, if they can frame a constitution together, maybe Patricia and Bianca can help reframe one! (Huh?)
Zany plot devices and off-the-wall exaggerations are prime comic tools, but only in a topical comedy that has keen insight into human and political nature, and enough comprehension of discordant political agendas to differentiate between them. As written, and as broadly staged by Tammis Doyle and very broadly acted by the shouty three-member cast, “The Taming” delivers very little in the way of theatrical or real-world plausibility.
In not providing some small core of viability, and fresher gags, “The Taming” muddles its premise and wastes its vitriol. Unintentionally to be sure, the play also winds up crudely lampooning its female “power players,” rather than empowering them.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org