Handled With Care: The Taming of the Shrew

 

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NY Theater Review by JK Clarke

 

 

It’s a pity that The Taming of the Shrew isn’t performed more often. It’s one of Shakespeare’s funnier, sharper comedies, from the earlier part of the Bard’s career. It has arguably the best pacing and quick witted dialog of all his comedies, certainly on par with As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing. Unfortunately, the central thrust of the play, Petruccio’s undertaking to subdue a nobleman’s rageful daughter, is so jaw-droppingly misogynistic, that it is theatrically radioactive: powerful, but must be handled with such care that few care to touch it. So, it’s nice to see TGW Acting Studio and the Baruch Performing Arts Center willing to give it a whirl.

 

Director Thomas G. Waites’ approach seems to be to cloak the entirety in exaggerated outrageousness, so that it’s difficult to take lines like “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper/Thy head, thy sovereign . . .” too seriously. Shakespeare did the same by starting Shrew with an induction scene, making it a farcical play within a play. Many productions eschew the misleading initial prologue featuring a drunken tinker Christopher Sly (here a loud and boisterous Joshua Walter) who is duped by a mischievous nobleman into believing, upon waking, that he, too, is a lord and has been called on to witness the actual play. But Waites chooses to include it (though not some of the interstitial scenes, unfortunately), and it sets Shrew in a more fanciful and absurdist light.

Furthermore, the theatrical tone is a sort of Commedia Dell’arte (or perhaps Panto) exaggerated styling, which further casts the story as ridiculous, thereby (hopefully) preventing the audience from taking the play’s decidedly anti-feminist stance to heart.

 
While that was probably a prudent decision, at times the exaggerations were too extreme and there was not enough reliance on the words themselves. One particular problem was with the character of Grumio (Illaria Malvezzi), Petruchio’s servant/fool. Grumio has some of the funniest lines and comedic interactions in all of Shakespeare, but much of it was lost in this production due to the actor’s very thick Italian (appropriately, ironically enough) accent. While Ms. Malvezzi seems to have some skill at physical clowning (which was excessive in this instance), a great deal of Grumio’s (as well as other characters’, but to a lesser degree) jokes were completely lost on a somewhat bewildered audience. Shakespeare, and in particular a play like Shrew, can be hugely entertaining with virtually no theatrics whatsoever. And until an ensemble has the dramatic and comic timing of the language down pat, physical and sight gags should be left aside—or, at the very least they shouldn’t be so distracting. The play can be relied upon to speak for itself.

 
While much of the acting was somewhat uneven (in terms of overall skill), there were some enjoyable roles, particularly Elissa Klie as a powerful and boisterous Kate; the graceful Jennifer Kalajian as a Bianca (who clearly needed no additional singing or dancing lessons from her tutor suitors); and Michael Moss as a Petruchio who was more winking lothario than brute.

 
Despite some (deliberately?) unfortunate wigs, the late 19th century costumes (Rebecca Welles) were sharp and stylish, and Jasmine Nicole’s set was attractive and evocative of a pleasant, summery Italian villa.
It’s certainly a pleasure to have an opportunity to see this seldom performed play, and the enthusiastic cast gives a heartfelt performance, though a more incisive focus and reliance on the text would have taken it much further.

 

The Taming of the Shrew. Thursdays- Sundays through August 3 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center’s Rose Nagelberg Theater (55 Lexington Avenue @ 25th Street, entrance between 2nd and 3rd Avenues). https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/934588 or www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac

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