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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
The Taming of the Shrew
If you're a Shakespeare & Company regular, you'll know that they love shtick and pratfalls and, in fact, tend to punch up the lunacy. To see the actors zestfully out-shtick the shtick and out-prat the pratfalls, get thee to the Founders Theater to see the lively, family friendly production (that is if you're bringing kids able to stay the course for 3 hours) that is playing in repertory with King John through Labor Day.
The emphasis on high jinx is evident even in the casting of the romantic leads. Instead of a shrewish but gorgeous Katherina (Celia Madeoy) and a dashingly handsome Petruchio we have a shrew who is petite but plump and a tall as a tree suitor (Rocco Sisto) whose most romantic moment is done as a comical tribute to the turn-of-the century cartoon characters Mr. Mutt and Mr. Jeff.
Varon's fascinating departure from more traditionally casting should please all the big girls who feel overlooked as romantic leading ladies and all tall, skinny guys who are more interesting looking than movie-star handsome. However, this would work more successfully if Ms. Madeoy were better able to convey the intelligence and vulnerability beneath the shrill, enraged older sister of the fair-haired Barbie-dollish Bianca (Stephanie Dodd); also, if there was more sexual sparkle between her and Mr. Sisto.
You may well prefer a less over-the-top telling of this much told tale of a husband's determination to be the master of his mate and his wife's holding on to her spirit even as she caves in to his insistence on having the upper hand in the marital game. But even though the relentless aim for laughs mitigates against a convincing romantic feeling to blossom between the battling lovers, nobody does over-the-top better and more entertainingly than Shakespeare & Company.
The entire 18-member cast, all gorgeously dressed by Laura Crow, contribute to the energy and fun and of course the Founders Theater, with its wonderfully authentic Elizabethan atmosphere, is ideal for giving you the sense of being back in London during Queen Elizabeth's reign. To address the troublesome issue of a husband "taming" his wife with tactics that border on sadism, director Daniela Varon has smartly insured that there's no mistaking that this is a play within a play by installing the drunken Sly in a bed in the area above and to the rear of the main playing area. From there he watches Katherina's journey to Petruchio's home and back to Padua along with the various sub-plots, with Lucas Maloney as his "wife."
Given the play's many revivals, the popular film version and the musical adaptation (Kiss Me Kate), I'll skip to Varon's clever epilogue rather than go into any plot details here. This epilogue is not in Shakespeare's text, but excerpted by Varon from some historic letters from Shakespeare's time and delivered by Sonya Hamlin as a surprise visitor who's a Bette Davis look-alike. Mum's the word as to any more details.
The various review links below include one for a full-length production of The Tamer Tamed, John Fletcher's sequel to the Shrew which picks up the story after Katherina dies, and Petruchio marries Maria who gives him a taste of his own taming. Shakespeare & Company is offering its own, trimmed down version (1 hour and 15 minutes) in the Rose Print tent just down the hill from the Founders Theater. Directed by Michael Burnet and starring Catherine Taylor-Williams (you may remember her terrific performance in Vita & Virginia) as the feisty Maria. While no threat to Shakespeare's reputation, this production offers an interesting historical footnote-- and it's absolutely free, though you do need to reserve and pick up tickets.
The Taming of The Shrew(London--2004)
The Taming of The Shrew(Central Park)
The Taming of the Shrew (all female version--Old Globe, London)
The Taming of the Shrew(Williamstown Theatre Festival)
Kiss Me Kate (Musical adaptation)
The Tamer Tamed (London)