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Theater review: Synchronicity’s ‘Taming’ veers wildly over the top

Highly touted as the most produced playwright in the country last year, Decatur native Lauren Gunderson (now based in San Francisco) is doubtless among the most prolific, too.

Just consider all the local productions of her work over the past several years: “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” at Synchronicity; the Weird Sisters’ “Emilie”Aurora’s “I and You”“The Revolutionists” at 7 StagesEssential’s “Ada and the Memory Engine”; and “Silent Sky” and “Miss Bennet” at Theatrical Outfit  — which is also opening its new season in August with her “The Book of Will.”

In the meantime, currently on display back at Synchronicity Theatre, “The Taming” is a wild satirical comedy that proves, if not much else, that even a lesser Gunderson play is worthy of note. According to her website, it’s one of four parts in a “Shakespeare Cycle,” but aside from the fact that its trio of quarreling women happens to take their names from characters in “The Taming of the Shrew,” appreciating any greater correlation to the Bard is a dubious stretch.

Kelly Criss (from left), Caroline Arapoglou and Jimmica Collins appear in the Synchronicity Theatre production of “The Taming” by former Atlanta-based playwright Lauren Gunderson. CONTRIBUTED BY JERRY SIEGEL (For the AJC)

This Katherine (played to a marvelous hilt by Caroline Arapoglou) is a Miss America contestant from right here in Cobb County, who, in one bizarre sequence, waves a flag and wields a rifle while wearing a sparkly outfit and a Make America Great Again cap. She may look like she’s “perpetuating female subjugation,” but she actually longs to be “taken seriously” and harbors grandiose aspirations of rewriting the Constitution and “creating a more perfect union.”

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To that end, she seeks, or more accurately corrals, input from Bianca (Jimmica Collins), an intense left-wing activist and “blogger on a mission,” and from a distaff Petruchio, as in Patricia (Kelly Criss), the ambitious political aide to a philandering right-wing U.S. senator. Given all of their usual partisan distinctions — liberal-versus-conservative, “blue state”-versus-“red state” — it’s of little surprise to also learn that one of them would own a cat, and the other a dog.

The admittedly absurd premise traps the strident women in a hotel room, with no means of escape or outside communication, to hash everything out. During the show’s intermission, they’re somehow transported to Colonial-era America for the start of Act 2. Patricia now embodies James Madison, Bianca becomes Thomas Pinckney, and Katherine appears as George Washington, and Martha, to boot. (Their frilly period costumes are designed by Cole Spivia.)

The time-shifting gimmick opens the floor to more heated “dialogue” between these Founding Fathers — about democracy and equality, about the slave trade and the Electoral College, and about the importance of “putting the country’s sustainability ahead of one’s special interests.”

As haphazardly directed for Synchronicity by Suehyla El-Attar, who’s mainly known as an actress and playwright, such serious points are often overshadowed by so much of the play’s silly posturing. The added, purported “sexual tension” among Gunderson’s three characters (at least one of whom is an avowed lesbian) is woefully underdeveloped. And, for all of their heightened hysterics, to what degree any of them are really “tamed” in the end is questionable at best.

THEATER REVIEW

“The Taming”

Through June 24. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. $23-$36 (Wednesday shows are pay-what-you-can). Synchronicity Theatre, 1545 Peachtree St. (in the Peachtree Pointe complex), Atlanta. 404-484-8636, synchrotheatre.com.

Bottom line: A minor Lauren Gunderson comedy.

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