I READ BOB MONDELLO’S review of the Shakespeare Theater’s current production of The Taming of the Shrew (Theater 4/21), and then had the good fortune to see it myself. Mondello, who generally accentuates the positive, called this production “a mess.” It’s hard to believe we both saw the same production.
Amusing as it is, Shrew is a problem play for modern audiences. Its sexual politics, conventional enough in Shakespeare’s time, are objectionable in our own time. We are no longer amused by the notion that a young woman who asserts herself as the equal of men must be humiliated until she admits defeat. Can a with-it director put together a production that delights a modern audience? I’m no expert, but I think Adrian Hall and Washington’s Shakespeare Theater succeeded brilliantly in solving the problem.
They retain the play’s framing device (which is left out of most productions). Hall introduces a “player Kate” acted by someone other than the Kate who is to be tamed in the “true” play. The player Kate is an unredeemable termagant, but the true Kate is smart, independent, and capable of love.
Stage business adds elements that deepen the story. In particular, Kate influences Christopher Sly/Petruchio (here acted by the same person) to overcome his addiction to alcohol.
Petruchio is portrayed as a decent man with compelling ideas, and Kate appreciates his virtues. She listens intently to everything he says, and when she becomes loving and submissive, it is because she has been persuaded to do so by Petruchio’s reasoning.
This solution rescues the play for our time. The price is that the literal argument of the text must not be pressed too hard, and the scenes between Petruchio and Kate are played more as romance than knockabout farce. I found that altogether charming. In my opinion, Hall and the others involved in this production have given us a Shrew that will carry us nicely to the end of the millennium.