The Taming of the Shrew

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Photo: Joan Marcus Review
It can escape the attention of no one sitting in the Delcorte Theatre that in the same summer America has chosen to nominate its first female candidate for President of the United States, the Public Theater has made the decidedly odd decision to present William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” a raucous, if now very politically incorrect, comedy in which a free-thinking firebrand of a woman learns to submit to the whims of her abusive husband.

Rather than just call the whole thing off (which I believe would have been the right choice), the Public has handed the reins to English director Phyllida Lloyd (responsible for the stage and film versions of “Mamma Mia”), who seems to think that by employing an admittedly brilliant all-female cast, creating a distancing/framing device about a local beauty pageant (which makes little cohesive sense), and interpolating some pop and country songs, the ultimate message of the play may not sink in. Well, she and her company do succeed in entertaining us for these intermissionless two hours, but unless you’re willing to turn your brain dial fully to the off position, I think you’ll still feel a bit icky when it’s all over.

The story – familiar to anyone who ever saw the musical “Kiss Me Kate” – revolves around the so-called “shrew” Katherine (Cush Jumbo, late of “The Good Wife,” revealing both her superb acting chops and a previously unseen gift for physical comedy), who has turned off the men of her hometown Padua with her sharp tongue. That’s bad news for younger sister Bianca (a deliciously ditzy Gayle Rankin), whom their father Baptista (an excellent LaTanya Richardson Jackson) won’t let be married until Kate finds a husband.

Enter Petruchio (an almost unrecognizably lanky Janet McTeer, fleet with her tongue and her hands, and as magnificent as ever). He’s a loutish drunkard who’s willing to take on the challenge for the considerable fortune bestowed on him by Baptista. Ultimately, he uses a few simple, if rather unpleasant, tricks to get Kate to bow to his will, but one never feels like true love between the couple has been achieved – only obedience.

Oddly, the main plot almost feels like a subplot, not just because of all the diversions Lloyd has created, but due to all the attention placed on the secondary story about Bianca’s courtship by three suitors: businessman Gremio (played by the ultra-hilarious Judy Gold as an ancestor of Donald Trump), ardent Hortencio (the always delightful Donna Lynne Champlin), and younger newcomer Lucentio (Rosa Gilmore), who goes to great lengths of deception to earn his prize.

Fortunately, even when the story seems unfocused (or a technical difficulty stops the action), the cast, which also includes such comic treasures as Adrienne C. Moore, Teresa Avia Lim, Anne L. Nathan, Candy Buckley, and Leenya Rideout, gives us something to laugh about. I’m with them – just not the play they’re performing.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Candy Buckley, Donna Lynne Champlin, Morgan Everitt, Rosa Gilmore, Judy Gold, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Cush Jumbo, Teresa Avia Lim, Janet McTeer, Adrienne C. Moore, Anne L. Nathan, Gayle Rankin, Pearl Rhein, Leenya Rideout, Jackie Sanders, Stacey Sargeant, Natalie Woolams-Torres

Open/Close Dates
Opening 5/24/2016
Closing 6/26/2016

Theatre Info
Delacorte Theater
Central Park (81st St & CPW or 79th St & Fifth Av)
New York, NY