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Theater in the Nation's Capital, Washington, DC

A Brilliant Effervescent THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
at Shakespeare Theatre Company
450 7th St. NW, Washington ,D.C.

reviewed by  Grace Cavalieri

If there is one play of Shakespeare that has received adequate exposure on stage and in film, it 's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. But for the uninitiated, maybe those high schoolers filling the front rows, we need only look at the program cover with Kate wearing boxing gloves behind her wedding gown, and the tale is told.

Directed by Rebecca BaylaTaichman, this may well be the most glittering theater event you will see this season.  We are startled as the curtain falls, rather than rises, to begin the show, and the imagination never flags from that moment. The technical wizardry, and stagecraft, are hydraulics to the play, providing hip gloss, high culture/pop culture -- modern dress, strobe lights, music segues -- at times, Italian brass, at times jazz -- all together, making a  2 1/2 hour Roman candle you wish would never go out. The haute couture department store features revolving doors. Glass windows (mirrored, plus funhouse mirrors) are put to good use by the Director. Behind the windows sometimes an actor is mannequin, other times, we see a showcase  for  a game show... not ordinary characters, these, either, with calling cards, brief cases, office chairs. What theatergoer does not like eye candy, and I didn't find a place where this obscured rather than clarified the text. In fact, it gives presence to the spirit of Shakespeare. 

The story: the older sister (fiery, wiry Katherina) must be married before the younger sister (beauteous and sublime Bianca) can wed. Petruchio is up for the task of taming Kate into marriage "woo her, wed her, bed her," and it is all, well noted as cash register sounds fill the theater.

Kate, performed athletically by feisty Charlayne Woodward struggles physically, with Chrisopher Innvar's testosteroned Petruchio. Manipulation is his first ploy "Sweet as springtime flowers" says he, as he hoists a biting and flailing bride to his shoulders, Staggering beneath the fray, he boasts "We will be married Sunday."

Shakespeare's characters are never disappointing, changing identities, gaining theatrical esteem, squeaking by calamity.  And so, after some burlesque and high shenanigans, the wedding does occur; " He woos in haste, weds in leisure."  But after that, neither food, nor sleep is allowed Katherine, as she is gradually weakened. She is reduced, broken with mind games, parroting her husband's wishes, and calling falsehood truth. All the time Bianca (sweet and tender Lisa Birnbaum) is being wooed by multiple suitors; and won at last by her love Lucentio (poetic Michael Milligan.)

What does Katherina get for having been gentled? No surprise- the love of her life, a husband who actually falls for her, and she for him.  We must remember, though, Shakespeare brought her on with the words "a woman is a fool if she has not the spirit to resist'' and now Petruchio champions, "I will be master of what will be my own. ..She is my chattel, my house, my barn... my ass..."

We know that in every historical century," Thy husband is thy Lord" (and Shakespeare adds wisely "He kills her in every chamber.") Petruchio gets what he wants, and adding insult to injury, Katherina must lecture other women on being an obedient wife. We wonder if she really gets what she wants, and I wonder if the Director could have departed from the script's intention by adding a little subversion. But none was apparent, betraying the very character of Katherina. We can change behavior but can we change character? This leaves the audience bedazzled by the piece and yet saying: What was he thinking!?

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW runs through Nov. 18. Information:  202-547-1122.

Grace Cavalieri is a playwright and a poet. She produces/hosts "The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress" for public radio.

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