The Taming, a political satire by Lauren Gunderson, is the first offering of the Catamounts’ 2016-’17 season. The play doesn’t probe very deep, despite the reference to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and a nod to Sartre’s No Exit. But it does provide some points to ponder, some feminist verve, a little political perspective and a lively, amusing evening of theater.
In No Exit — Sartre’s version of hell — three people who thoroughly loathe each other are trapped in the same room for eternity. In The Taming, Katherine, a glamorous, self-assured, larger-than-life Miss America contestant from Georgia, has trapped two other women in a hotel suite. It’s the eve of the pageant, and she’s dropped her original idea for a speech advocating sunglasses for babies in favor of another topic: the need to revise the Constitution of the United States of America. Her prisoners are there for consultation. One is Patricia, aide to a far-right Republican congressman known for diddling his interns and his fondness for pulled pork, passions he manages to combine. The other is liberal blogger Bianca, outspoken protector of the endangered giant pygmy panda shrew who can mobilize armies of angry tweeters at a moment’s notice — except that, alas, Katherine has confiscated both her and Patricia’s phones. Also Patricia’s pants: There’s a little lesbian sexual innuendo in the script, though it never really comes to anything.
The three argue and soon arrive at the kind of impasse that chokes most political discourse these days.
The women fall asleep, and their shared dream takes us to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where Katherine (Laura Lounge) becomes George Washington, Patricia (McPherson Horle) transforms into theoretician James Madison and Bianca (Missy Moore) is South Carolina’s Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, staunch defender of slavery. Or this might be Katherine’s dream we’re seeing. In a refreshing twist, it turns out that despite the baby sunglasses, the egotism and the requisite tear-filled declarations of patriotism, she’s hardly the stereotypical pageant airhead we expect, but a student of constitutional law who intends to use her beauty and her boobs — not to mention the forced presence of right and left, as represented by Patricia and Bianca, to steer America back on track.
The performances have been broad and satiric throughout — as they should be — but in the dream sequence, they become straight-up farcical. Although Moore’s constant threats to leave the convention if slavery is proscribed and her horsewoman’s way of swishing up her coattails before plumping into a chair are funny, they’re also a bit too much, as is Lounge’s high-pitched, over-the-top Washington. Only Horle keeps Madison quietly thoughtful, in line with her earlier portrayal of Patricia.
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Despite this, the slavery discussion — which reminded me of the shenanigans that ensued when LBJ rammed and maneuvered through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, brilliantly delineated in Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way — represents one of the evening’s more interesting interludes, demonstrating the sheer impossibility of getting anything important done without compromise and a bit of passionate horse trading.
Publicity material for The Taming says it mocks all political sides equally, and it would be a far stronger play if in fact it did. But it’s pretty unbalanced. Bianca is shown as a narrow-minded idiot, more concerned for the life of an animal than for the myriad unemployed and poor whom Patricia insists would be helped by a bill she drafted for her senator. A Republican bill aimed at helping the poor stretches credulity, but the senator never reads his papers, and Patricia isn’t really a proper Republican anyway. She has doubts. At heart she’s a kindly and moderate compromiser. The play never concedes that species extinction is a crucial environmental issue or that most liberals have many multi-faceted concerns — and at any rate, Bianca is motivated only by her desire for money and fame.
The Catamounts have always combined gustatory and aesthetic interests, and this production is no exception. Depending on what night you attend, you’ll get either a specially brewed cocktail or a glass of Wild Woods Brewery’s Thy Fruited Plain American Wheat Beer pre-show. If it’s a Saturday night, when the ticket costs a little more, you’ll be treated to an after-show red-state/blue-state community dinner where you can sit with other audience members, debate The Taming, and see if you can come to any kind of consensus together.
The Taming, presented by the Catamounts through October 8. Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. Find more information at 303-444-7328 or thecatamounts.org.