Duke City Repertory tries to tame Shakespeare's Shrew
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, February 10, 2011
I know Shakespeare is, well, Shakespeare. Many diehard theater lovers consider him the best playwright to have ever grasped an ink-imbued instrument. Most actors and/or theater companies want to eventually try their iambic-pentameter-loving hands at one of the man’s plays. I realize this will put me on the blacklist of a number of theater patrons in town, but the question I always ask myself before seeing one of Shakespeare’s works on stage is: Why?
Not why do people love him, or why is he held as the pinnacle of all that is poetic. But why, today, do people choose Shakespeare when putting on a play? With so many fantastic scripts in the world, why choose something that’s 400 years old and that’s already been done a thousand times over by everyone from Mel Gibson to the community theater around the corner? Sometimes there’s a really good answer, but I think it’s a valid question.
That question sits at the apex of my thoughts when it comes to The Taming of the Shrew, arguably the most sexist play ever written. I have to admit that while I like, sometimes love, nearly all of Shakespeare’s other well-known works along with the rest of the English-speaking world, I hate The Taming of the Shrew.
For those who don’t know the storyline, it’s about “the shrew,” Katherina, the eldest daughter of a rich lord who no one will marry due to her temperamental demeanor. The problem is that she has a sister, Bianca, who her father has sworn will not marry until Katherina is wed. Two men want to marry Bianca, and they disguise themselves as tutors in order to get in good with her. In the meantime, a cocky man named Petruchio declares to the father that he wants to win over Katherina and marry her. Thus begins the “taming” part of the story, in which a confident and independent, if surly, Katherina is married against her will, screwed and starved to the point of exhaustion, and “taught” to always agree with her husband, even when he calls the sun the moon. And this is supposed to be a comedy.
Values were obviously different in the 1590s, when Shakespeare wrote the play. But why, today, do people still find this funny? Maybe it’s just not for me.
Script choice aside, the actors in Duke City Repertory Theatre’s version of The Taming of the Shrew did a great job for the most part. The six actors each carry two (in one case three) roles, and they do fine work of it. The two female actors—Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin and Lauren Myers, who play Katherina and Bianca respectively, as well as male servants—are the best parts of the show. They’re funny and exuberant and spot-on with their lines. Sandlin is particularly charismatic, and she delivers a forceful Katherina (at least until she’s “tamed”).
Mike Ostroski, who plays the father as well as a tailor, is an obvious pro. He doesn’t have all that many lines in the show, but he has the most natural character. Likewise, the flamboyant Petruchio is played by Frank Taylor Green, who has also obviously put in a hefty amount of stage time. Green seems to have endless stores of energy, and while I personally detest Petruchio, the actor really does bring him to life. Green is at once crazed and sly and twisted, and he’s loving every minute of it.
The set is simple enough, with a few sets of wooden stairs and two wooden benches. The minimalism works in the play’s favor. Less successful is the costuming. With a universal uniform of black pants, white button-up shirts and black vests, the cast looks like a group of waiters, or maybe a chorus. Since each actor plays more than one role, characters are differentiated with reversible satin scarves tied in various manners. For instance, Sandlin is Katherina when her scarf is tied sarong-like around her waist and a servant when it’s tied toga-like across her shoulder. I understand the desire to have a blank slate the audience can build its imagination upon, but the scarves just don’t work. They’re cumbersome and kind of ugly.
The Taming of the Shrew probably won’t attract many feminists. But if you don’t mind the storyline, the performance on the part of the city’s newest theater troupe is worth the price of admission.
The Taming of the Shrew
Runs through Feb. 13
8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
The Filling Station
1024 Fourth Street SW
Tickets: $20; $12 military, seniors and students