The Taming of the Shrew is one of the most famous plays ever written and needs no introduction. What makes this particular production of it by the Deptford Players noteworthy is that the play was presented unedited, including the Christopher Sly Induction (which is often cut). It's also of note because it sas set in Shakespeare's intended time and place.
At about the same time that Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew, there was another, very similar play called The Taming of a Shrew ("a" rather than "the"). It was possibly a bad plagiarism of Shakespeare's work, or perhaps a source of inspiration for the young Shakespeare; but undoubtedly an excellent debate for historians. Regardless, Bard geeks will be pleased to hear that the Deptford Players' script includes material from the lesser-known play, in addition to the full text of Shakespeare's. They might have expected to throw in a scene or two from John Fletcher's sequel, The Tamer Tamed (Google it), but they drew the line at that.
Although Shrew is brilliant, its uncut running time clocks in at just under three hours, hardly a brisk pace, especially considering the overlong and unnecessary framing device (it is actually a play within a play). On the other hand, this means that there's no shortage of comedy to be had here, and the Deptford Players had quite a lot of fun with their commedia clown antics.
Jeff Berry made a towering and imposing Petruchio, especially with the petite Jenny Marie Lambert as his shrewish wife, Katherina. The two were perfectly cast as Shakespeare's combative lovers, especially under the direction of Loree True, who softened the misogynistic tendencies of the story. True's direction had a classical quality, presenting the play without much embellishment. At times this made it a bit predictable, but ultimately true to the playwright's intent. The large supporting cast was on target too, particularly Dudley Stone (hilarious in several drag roles), along with Craig Davenport as The Lord from the Induction, and Brennan Roberts as the scheming servant Tranio.
Production values were a tad modest at times. A single, simple set (designed by director True) was used to represent all the locations, from Verona to Padua and between. Although somewhat sparse, the primary-colored set was bright enough to be eye-catching and versatile enough to get the job done. Lighting (by Michelle Zielinski) and sound were also simplistic, but the costumes (by Jackie Stone) stood out. There are quite a lot of characters in ...Shrew to outfit, and Stone came up with some fun designs, especially Petruchio's jester-like wedding attire.
The Deptford Players produce both new and classical works, but they deserve much commendation for giving life to the classics, and for believing that these works retain their relevance without needing to be modernized. Kiss Me Kate is all well and good, but in the words of Shakespeare himself, The Taming of The Shrew still is "A very excellent piece of work."
(Also featuring David Hutson, Lynn McCann, Steven Ungar Jeff Topf, Melcy Garcia, Michael Bernstein, Jay Longan, Thomas McCann, Catherine L. Kung, and Stephanie Stone.)
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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby