A goodly supply of farcical humor makes The Taming of the Shrew among the more accessible of Shakespeare's capers. For this reason, scholars have not analyzed it as thoroughly as his other efforts; they tend to be allergic to things they consider accessible.
This play-within-a-play concerns Kate (Rachel Russell), a "fiend of hell," and her ultimate domestication by Petruchio (Carl Bradford). The subplot, which is much more involved, examines the romantic adventures of Kate's sister Bianca (Janna Rosenkranz). In her case, several suitors compete for her affections: Hortensio (Lee Coleman), who poses as a suitor in Bianca's house, which is presided over by Bianca's (and Kate's) father Baptista (Scott Thomson); Lucentio (John Mazurek), who also poses as a tutor to win Bianca; Gremio (T.D. White), an older chap who likes younger women (good for him); and Tranio (Melissa Bell), Lucentio's servant, who assumes his master's identity and, by extension, his role of suitor to Bianca. Along the way, there is cooing, shouting and horsing-around. Kate ends up marrying Petruchio, and Lucentio wins the Bianca Derby. The play concludes with everyone sharing a joyous supper. All of this was observed by Christopher Sly (Mr. Thomson), a lord (Keith Allaway), and his servants, as if they themselves were audience members attending a play.
The director, Rachel Scott, changed the setting to 1950s suburban New Jersey in order to, in her words, "encourage a closer examination of the roots and evolution of today's American culture." She is to be commended for her boldness of thought. The premise, however, was never sufficiently developed--indeed, it may not be possible to do so since The Taming of the Shrew is resoundingly Elizabethan in both language and outlook. The result was simply a group of actors reciting Shakespearean verse while wearing taffeta dresses, jeans, and Yankee caps. No compelling reason was offered as to why this Shrew should be "tamed" in the Land of Eisenhower as opposed to the Padua of 1600.
On an almost bare stage, and with minimal lighting and sound (mainly
Elvis Presley oldies), Ms. Scott directed her performers in slapstick
fashion that occasionally deteriorated into self-indulgent shtick,
a common trap when staging this play. Ms. Russell was good and
snotty as Kate, and Carl Bradford's Petruchio more than kept up
with her. As Bianca, Ms. Rosenkranz seemed unsure of herself at
first, but she improved as the performance progressed. Ms. Bell
was curiously cast as Lucentio's male servant Tranio; this was
distracting, though through no fault of the actress. Todd Banks
was sturdy as Biondello, Lucentio's other servant, but he was
a bit much as Sly's wife. T.D. White made a dignified Gremio.
As Lucentio, Mr. Mazurek exhibited color and verve. Scott Thomson
did well as the doltish Sly; in this version he was a construction
worker (he's a tinker in the original). B.H. Barry handled
the fight choreography well enough.
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Copyright 1998 Steve Gold