Shakespeare in black-and-white

The Taming of the Shrew

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Douglas Mercer
Hawk and Handsaw Production Co.
The Abingdon Theater
432 W. 42 St., 4th fl. [(917) 328-8692]
Equity showcase (closes April 8)
Review by David Mackler

The Taming of the Shrew is not good ol' Will's best play, but it was written to popular taste - and face it, tastes haven't changed all that much. But to cut to the chase - the Hawk & Handsaw Production Co. mounted a terrific production of it. So good, in fact, and so well directed/acted/designed, that all reservations were swept aside. And Shakespearean juvenilia is still miles above anyone else's.

No matter when audience members got to their seats, the show had already begun. Some guys were throwing dice, others playing chess, and all were flirting with every woman in sight - full of braggadocio and thick Italian accents. (This was Padua, after all, but the accents were properly dropped when the play began - except when a character or two lapsed into Italian in an excited moment.) Everyone was decked out in black and white attire, on the black-and-white checkerboard set, which was bathed in red and blue gels. Red was also judiciously used in costumes, and all for maximum (and stunning) effect. (Costumes/set/lighting design by director Douglas Mercer.) This stylization set the bar pretty high, but from the beginning the cast met and exceeded the challenge. Dialogue was wonderfully clear, and the actors so well-spoken that practically every line was funny.

The hand of the director was in every line and every movement, but never to the detriment of the play or the actors, and there was a terrific mixture of subtle and slapstick in everything that happened. The actors also played to the audience, which the script supports right readily, and it gave the production a very Globe-like feel.

And as for the players: Nathan Flower was a vain and preening Petruchio, not afraid to come across as a blowhard. But who else could be a match for the glorious Rita Pietropinto as Katherina, in her animal-print bustier, raging at the unfairness of being the less-favored daughter. She also managed the astounding feat of being heartbreaking one minute (as she lay on the floor being housebroken) and hysterically funny the next, as her survival instincts kicked in. Giovanni Pucci was spot-on as the servant Tranio, who masquerades as his master Lucentio (well played by Joshua Dean Gordon); Michael Esper's Grumio and Duane Noch's Hortensio were fine and funny; it was quite understandable why Maitreya Friedman's Bianca would be courted by so many. A special word of praise to Joseph Small, who did great and wonderful things with Biondello, and Peter Williamson, who made a large impression in a small role.

Yes, the plot is familiar, and in many ways is severely incorrect, politically speaking. So what. This production held it all together, and it worked so exceedingly well that even a window was funny. (Note to producer: there's no need to play the Kiss Me Kate soundtrack at intermission - yea and verily, this Shrew makes its own music.)

Also with Stephen John Kaiser, Laura Klein, Art Kessler, Peter J. Coriaty.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 David Mackler