The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave. NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 16 at noon
Tuesday, July 19 at 7 p.m.
Friday, July 22 at 5:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 24 at 3 p.m.

They say: “Are women as funny as men? This feminist adaptation of Taming of the Shrew explores the politics of power, performance, sex, and laughter by taking Shakespeare’s original text and turning it on its head.”

Adam’s Take: Puppet shows are fun so long as you’re the one pulling the strings: Each movement of the arms and contortion of the body is reflected in the slightest gestures of hands that float above. Aspiring female thespians who sought to act in Elizabethan theater were little more than puppets who had no control over their predetermined exclusion from the trade, as it was a world comprised entirely of men. Even when roles called for women, societal expectations cast shadows over just how inclusive, or groundbreaking, Elizabethan theater could be.

Laurie J. Wolf and Francesca Chilcote masterfully present this truism in their intriguing adaption of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. In a tavern in the 17th century English countryside, a play is about to be performed, but the actor who arrives has a scandalous secret. No mop is needed to endow this player with a full head of hair—she is, after all, a woman. Ridicule ensues when she suggests she is just as capable of acting as her male counterparts, and she’s called to walk the talk by taking the role of one of Shakespeare’s most unpleasant characters, Katherina Minola.

Wolf and Chilcote present a stripped-down version of Shakespeare’s original that focuses solely on the ever-evolving relationship between Kate (Chilcote) the shrew and her courtier, Petruchio (CJ Bergin). The two soon come to acknowledge each other as peers that share romantic affection, and Kate is no longer a puppet at the whims of Petruchio.

But the playwrights are not satisfied by merely reworking the Bard’s four hundred-year-old script—so they reduce it to a subplot. The actors who take on the roles of Kate and Petruchio also express the development of their true feelings as individuals; where the Taming of the Shrew begins and ends within The Shrewing of the Tamed is not exactly clear. The Kate and Petruchio imagined by Shakespeare become enmeshed with the lives of the actors in the tavern. As the two began to see each other as equals (and love interests) in real life, it becomes impossible for them to act out their stage parts in quite the same way.

The intricacies of the play’s text are effectively presented by director Kristen Pilgrim and a supporting cast who knows how to step back in time. Connor J. Hogan elicits humor as the Barkeep, Greg Benson (also a Fringe & Purge blogger) portrays a stately father in Baptista, and Keegan Cassady is effective as the ever-loyal Grumio. Though times have changed to allow women on stage, this adaption embraces an eternal theme: Only as equals, when puppeteer Petruchio lets go of the strings, can he and Kate embrace the true strength of their relationship—both on the stage and in real life.

See it if: You believe that discussions of gender and inequality are best expressed through extended metaphors of puppetry.

Skip it if: The works of William Shakespeare are to you a specimen of perfection for which no adjustments are needed.