Theater – The Taming of the Shrew

Taming of the Shrew Set

I love the Shakespeare Theater.  They put on terrific shows.  They regularly win awards (their production of Salome from earlier in the year took home a boatload of Helen Hayes awards, which are the DC-area equivalent of the Tonys), and their productions – even when not as entertaining to watch – are always a beauty to behold both in set and costume design.  This time, the production had problems.  I love “The Taming of the Shrew” – it’s difficult to watch as a modern feminist and to think about Kate’s final speech, but we performed it when I was in middle school, and it’s got some fun banter between characters, and is quite funny at times.  But watching Petruchio abuse Katherina into submission can be difficult.  And the director took away some of the problems of watching those situations up front because it was an all male cast.

Bianca and Kate
Oliver Thornton and Maulik Pancholy in Shakespeare Theatre’s Taming of the Shrew, photo by Scott Suchman.

Now, I’m not going to knock the cast – they were pretty great, especially the guys who were playing the girls.  In particular I loved Maulik Pancholy who plays Katherina (you’ll remember him from 30 Rock or something else because he’s a familiar face).  He plays Kate in such a sad, world-weary way, that you can tell she’s more angry at the kind of men who have been her available suitors in town than she is at men in general (something I haven’t seen in a Kate before).  If all you’ve got available to you is assholes who are obsessed with your barbie-doll sister, then yeah, I get scorning “all men”.  And Oliver Thornton, who plays Bianca, is that perfectly beautiful doll, but as the night goes on we see that she too is dissatisfied with the men and choices available to her as a rich woman.  Both parts are so tenderly portrayed, it’s a joy to watch.

Piazza D'Amore

What’s frustrating is everything that happens around it.  Maybe the director and the theater didn’t think that the show was good enough to stand on it’s own – it is!  The acting is great, the costumes and scenery are stunning, so what more could you want?  Apparently, an Italian market before the show, hawking things that are vaguely Italian in theme.  I get the feeling that there were opportunities to expand the shop downstairs and someone in marketing said, “Let’s tie it into the show!”  It’s…odd?  In any case, the Boy and I did buy a really nice bar of chocolate (like…really nice), and it was good, but did we need it?  Probably not.

Rick Hammerly and Drew Foster in the pre-show performance

And what would a market be if there were not strolling performers, entertaining the masses?  Granted, the performers were very good, but were they necessary?  There also didn’t appear to be a great place for them to perform, and for people to come upstairs, and for everyone else to congregate and for the market to continue selling items.  And this wasn’t the only music we would hear tonight – interspersed through the performance were the songs of Duncan Sheik.  Duncan Sheik who I love, and met somehow in a Raleigh mall parking lot concert months before Spring Awakening exploded onto Broadway.  But it’s kind of a stretch to shoehorn the music in, and while the performances themselves are quite good…again – were they necessary?  Probably not.

TotS Intermezzo

Finally – instead of a normal 10 or 15 minute intermission, we were treated to a 30 minute “Intermezzo”, which included cake pops (for free), and drinks (for purchase) as a sort of wedding reception.  There was also more music, and a sort of pantomime storyline played out in front of us.

Bernard White

Am I glad I got to eat a cake pop and see a man who I recognize from television pretend to get dead drunk and hang off the set over me? (on a set, incidentally – that SPINS!)  Definitely.  Did I need that?  Was it necessary to the story?  I don’t think so.

It’s just a lot.  So much that this production ran later than most, with a run time of over 3 hours.  And most of the new and “interesting” things don’t necessarily add to the production.  I bet it would be really great even without the music.  Without the money-grab beforehand at the market.  Without the cake-pops.  Perhaps the director was too afraid to let the work stand as is, because as a modern society it is so hard to watch, even when the entire cast is men.  Should this stop you from going to the theater?  No, it shouldn’t.  It’s just more frustrating for me as someone who attends regularly to watch a production that seems so cluttered.  Perhaps they could take a lesson from Coco Chanel, who said, “Before leaving the house, a lady should look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”  This production has a few accessories that could stand to be removed.  It’s too bad that being over-the-top would have the potential to ruin an otherwise lovely performance.

Details: “The Taming of the Shrew” at Shakespeare Theater Company, runs through June 26.  Tickets available with a 10% discount if you use the code PLUSONE

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