Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Cheryl Denson
Production Stage Manager – Jasmine Shands*
Assistant Stage Manager – Briana Collazo Abbott
Set Design – Kennedy Styron
Lighting Design – Jessica Ann Drayton
Costume Design – Sarah Mosher
Sound Design – Brian Christensen
Properties Design – Amy Poe
Projectionist – Johnathan White
Covid Compliance Officers – Elizabeth Kensek & Briana Collazo Abbott
Katherine – Kimberly Michelle Thomas*
Patricia – Leslie Marie Collins*
Bianca – Jenna Claire
Understudy – Raven Lawes
*Actors’ Equity Association
Reviewed Performance: 10/15/2021
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Lauren Gunderson is an award-winning contemporary playwright, whose political comedy The Taming is earning laughs at WaterTower Theatre. This three-woman comedy zips along from zinger to zinger, with lively blocking and surprising twists and turns.
The setting is an opulent bedroom, which upon closer examination is a hotel room. Champagne is on ice, and pink martinis invite consumption. The minibar and a laminated sign give the setting away as an upscale hotel. Grecian busts are shelved on either side of the bed. An elaborate chandelier extended from the ceiling contributes to the luxury eclectic style. Music contributes to the theme and mood. The first song lyrics, tellingly, are: I wish I could be happy with what I got but I’m not.
The action opens with Katherine (Kimberly Michelle Thomas) speaking and singing for the sound system check for the Miss America pageant. Katherine is Miss Georgia and intends to take the title of Miss America. The unseen sound engineer’s ennui is a funny foil for Katherine’s exuberance. She is gorgeous, poised and completely in love with America, sparkling head to toe, in a carefully engineered costume that expands into silver “wings.”
Patricia (Leslie Marie Collins) takes the stage with her own American aspirations—not winning a beauty pageant, but rather high political ambitions. Patricia works for a United States Senator, who doesn’t do things like reading, but no matter. Patricia will make him President of conservatives—and (dismissive hand waive) the rest of America. Conversing with an unseen intern, Patricia hilariously threatens, “the full weight of my political ambition will come crashing down on your sweater set.” Patricia is professionally dressed and highly strung as she cruelly dresses down the unseen younger woman.
Bianca (Jenna Claire) is a heavy-drinking activist on a mission to, through incriminating video, take down either the Senator or the Senator’s pending signature legislation. She is supremely confident, and what exactly she has on the politician is a mystery that unspools throughout the play.
After the three characters are introduced, Patricia wakes up in the hotel bed, sans pants, phone, or memory of how she got there. She becomes apoplectic not because she doesn’t know what she may have done, but because the Senator is at risk of being exposed for the unfit rube that he is without her to run interference. What if CNN asks him to spell something, she frets.
Bianca crawls out from under the bed. Bianca, the liberal blogger, and Patricia, the conservative staffer, quickly realize they can’t stand each other, and the comedic insults start flying. With sharp wit, both sides of the political aisle are roasted. Between the shoot-the-dozens style put downs, Bianca and Patricia unsuccessfully search for their coveted phones and eventually realize they are locked in the room.
Enter Miss Georgia, who admits, when she can get a word in edgewise, that she roofied them. Katherine explains that she keeps winning beauty pageants without really trying, and what she really wants is to stage a Constitutional Convention. She has a hefty binder of ideas, and wants the two political foes to come together to draft a new Constitution, correcting and replacing the existing one. Eventually we get to hear Miss Georgia’s answer in the Miss America pageant, and the effect is wicked smart. One way to look at the play is that it explores the question: what if one of these beauty contestant’s over-the-top goody-goody answer was actually sincere.
The Second Act opens with an extended, surreal dream sequence that takes reality away from us and reimagines the Constitutional Convention of 1787. James Madison is the favored historical figure, who recognized the horror of slavery in America. Comic references to and appearances of Martha Washington, she of the big hats, along with savvy political jokes, hold the audience’s attention. The witty repartee includes the best Second Amendment joke ever.
True to WaterTower Theatre form, the actors are phenomenal. Thomas appropriately is having a glorious time, and when we learn her character’s end game, Katherine’s ambition makes all the more sense. Collins’ rapid-fire delivery of highly strung insults and laments is impressive, not to mention hilarious. Claire proves extraordinarily versatile, as she assumes different personalities in Act Two. Her Charles Pickney in the 1787 dream sequence thoroughly convinces as the slippery villain devoted to protecting the American slave trade.
This play serves up numerous comedic one-liners, frequently in rapid-fire exchanges of scathing insults. As in, you are not going to trash the Senator I worked so hard to puppet! And, I’m not judging you which I am really proud of. And, just give her a minute while she hits bottom, okay? Indictments on the state of the country include the fact that deep fried butter is a snack.
The gorgeously outfitted set is rounded out by a projection wall that doubles as the view from the fancy hotel room. The costumes are fun and funny, including a surreal version of the founding fathers. Miss Georgia’s pageant finery is elaborate and delightful. The well executed lightening design is important in shifting the settings in and out of the hotel room, and the effective sound design affords an enjoyable listening experience.
The play premiered in 2013, and how it relates to current events is open for interpretation. Certainly, the audience is invited to consider the disparate interests and tremendous challenges at play when the United States Constitution was written and signed. I recommend this production for the marvelous performances, high energy, wealth of laugh lines, and ample food for thought.
Water Tower Theatre
October 13 – 24, 2021
Terry Martin Min Stage
15650 Addison Rd,
Addison, TX 75001
For information and Tickets call 972-450-6232 or go https://watertowertheatre.org