Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Taming of the Shrew
Posner has set William Shakespeare's combative comedy in his version of the American West in the 1880s, which he sees as a time of fluid boundaries and a conflict between strict gender roles and new possibilities. In other words, the "shrew" Katherine (Kate Eastwood Norris) wears britches and suspenders, tosses back shots of whiskey, and carries a gun (which she never uses), while her insipid sister Bianca (Sarah Mollo-Christensen) is a girly girl in pink plaid. The swaggering Petruchio (Cody Nickell) is a bearded, broad-shouldered gambler, clearly a man as compared with the boys pursuing Bianca. Norris and Nickell are a married couple offstage, and they play off each other beautifully as a matched pair.
Posner's over-the-top vision is heavy on comic ridiculousness, whether it's a lovelorn man trapped outside a second-story window or a servant who crosses his eyes and makes anachronistic comments. He even adds some complications not in the original play, such as changing the father of Katherine and Bianca to a mother (Sarah Marshall) and using another servant to incorporate the Shakespearean boy-as-girl device. These do pay off: Marshall ably portrays a tough woman who retains the trappings of femininity, while Holly Twyford as the servant Tranio gets an opportunity to act like Clark Gable.
At the time Shakespeare was writing, audiences found humor in Petruchio's use of humiliation, starvation, lack of sleep, and verbal abuse to crush Katherine's independent spirit. Contemporary productions, including this one, present the "taming" as mutual in nature: he never forces his advantage, while she eventually gets a chance to play with his mind as he plays with hers.
Another of the director's inspirations was to place singer-songwriter Cliff Eberhardt onstage throughout as "the blind balladeer." His original songs add atmosphere but little else.
The most striking thing about this production is its visual appeal. Helen Q. Huang's costumes have a tactile appealfrom the metallic brocades and deep colors worn by the wealthier characters to Petruchio's backwoods wedding costumeand Tony Cisek's scenic design is sweetly silly in its depiction of Petruchio's rustic home.