Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > Misognynistic ‘Taming of the Shrew’ likely to insult some in Globe audience

Misognynistic ‘Taming of the Shrew’ likely to insult some in Globe audience

By Carol Davis 

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO — The second of the two Shakespeare plays being mounted on the Lowell Davies Festival Stage is his comedy/farce Taming of The Shrew directed by Ron Daniels. Every now and then companies like to dust off this misogynist piece and see how funny they can make it by just being goofy about it.

Daniels has done just that up to and including having a rickety old horse that was being ridden by Petruchio (Jonno Roberts), to fetch his bride Kate (Emily Swallow) on his wedding day, stopping to take a poop in the middle of the stage. Funny? Not so much in this reviewer’s opinion.

Shakespeare’s “Shrew” made into the musical “Kiss Me Kate” by Cole Porter (a much better watch) made a big splash at the Old Globe in 1984 and in 1985 “Shrew” was on the roster of the Festival Stage as part of that year’s Festival. Over the years, it had been produced many times, 1996 being the last until now. A 14-year lapse is a respectable amount of time. In the meantime yours truly managed to catch John Cranko’s ballet,” Taming of The Shrew”, in Boston while visiting friends. That was a treat.

This year’s production has some kitsch, slapstick and rare funny moments but it’s not easy trying to plug a 16th/17th century point of view about subservient women in the 21st century by piling shtick on it so thick that the plot kind of vanishes and all that you remember are the laugh lines.

In fact what happens from the time Petruchio takes his shrew Katherine from Padua her home, to ‘tame’ her in Verona his home is glimpsed only when we see the two arriving at his home. Her wedding gown is mud soaked from walking (while he rides) and she is worn out and hungry. Petrucho’s way of taming his shrew is through sleep and food depravation. Anyway, you get the idea.

When the two do finally travel back to Padua to attend her sister Bianca’s  (Bree Welch) wedding to Lucentio (Jay Whittaker), Kate is a reformed woman who just about licks Petruchio’s boots (for lack of another printable phrase). Somehow the battle of the sexes (Kate’s strong and stubborn will vs. Petruchio’s high testosterone level in bringing down his woman) is more implied than demonstrated. Rather, the goings on back at Padua between the two clowns courting Bianca is the main focus of this circus. Maybe it’s better that way.

Remember, Bianca is the pretty sister with all the suitors and Kate is the petulant, feisty, quarrelsome and mean spirited one no one wants to marry.   As custom has it, their wealthy father Baptista (Adrian Sparks) will not allow his youngest to marry before the eldest is married of. But who will marry her?

It seems that no amount of money is tempting enough to land a husband for poor old, proud Kate. The prospects are gloomy if not outright dismal for Kate when Petruchio who happens to be riding through Padua, learns from Hortensio (Donald Carrier) one of Bianca’s suitors, that he can’t marry his beloved until her sister is married off. There is money in the offer, but no one is taking the bait. Look no more. Once Petruchio hears the offer Kate’s father is willing to make, we have a taker. Ah! The lure of money!

The sideshow between the wealthy and/or studious suitors who switch places with their servants is really where the fun and action kick in. With a few switches of costumes (Deirdre Clancy outfits her players with an array of colors to please the eye) the servants are turned into the masters and vice versa.

Mistaken identity, prancing around in, ahem, designer semi heels and acting more dandified (a running joke) than anything, Michael Stewart Allen (Lucentio’s servant Tranio) is a hoot as he impersonates his wealthy master Lucentio.

Given the mistaken identity bit, the role reversals and with tons of buffoonery the farce is off and running, wonderfully acted and beautifully executed where every word can be heard and understood. All this is great. The play’s the problem, however. Looking beyond the fact that the whole premise of the play aggravates the hell out of me especially the second act where Kate acts like milquetoast in Petruchio’s hands, points are scored for the acting, directing and costumes.

Jonno Roberts (who played Edmond in “Lear”) is the cunning Petruchio about to break his Kate. Roberts is a handsome guy whose Petruchio stakes out his territory like a bullfighter weighing his options when confronted with the bull staring him down. He is charming and beguiling. Meeting him eye to eye, Swallow’s Kate is up to the task, and equally attractive, as they circle each other, weighing their options.  At the end of their little dance of I won’t blink first; Kate is dragged off to Verona only to return a tamed, if you will, shrew. Some things are stranger than fiction.

Bree Welch is as ditsy as she can be as Bianca trying to find the right balance of choice between Lucentio and Hortensio and those two guys are about as inept as they can get. It’s all in the costumes and body language and it works well here. 

It might be a rite of passage, but producing yet another  “Shrew” seems to be on everyone’s mind when looking for a Shakespearean comedy to mount. This one happens to be pretty decent with and without its flaws.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: June 16th-September 26th (Check dates)

Organization: Old Globe Theatre

Phone: 619-234-5623

Production Type: Comedy

Where” Old Globe Way, Balboa Park

Ticket Prices: $29.00-$78.00

Web: theoldglobe.org

Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre

 *
Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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