The Taming of the Shrew
Also see Susan's review of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change
The modern-dress production of The Taming of the Shrew, now at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, is (to reference the boxing gloves that Katherina wears in the ads) a knockout. It's both funny and unsettling, refusing to shy away from the darker side of a comedy about the battle between an outspoken woman and the fortune hunter who marries her, and between love and possession.
Director Rebecca Bayla Taichman emphasizes the materialistic aspects of William Shakespeare's play: in this world, marriage is primarily a financial transaction, and much of the negotiation involves deals with the transfer of fortunes. When Petruchio (Christopher Innvar), tall and direct, swaggers into Padua determined "to wive it wealthily," and finds his match in the self-possessed, sharp-tongued Katherina (Charlayne Woodard), they realize that they are the only people in the drama facing the situation head-on, without subterfuge.
Narelle Sissons' scenic design is all about glittering surfaces, all glass boxes and shining red floors, and Bianca (Lisa Birnbaum) first appears – to the audience as well as to her admirers – as an idealized object of desire one might see on a magazine cover or a billboard. Katherina, in her plain black slacks and white tank top, is as down-to-earth as Bianca, in her shimmering white gown, is seemingly ethereal. (Miranda Hoffman designed the dead-on, frequently hilarious costumes.)
In contrast to Petruchio's forthright bargaining, the negotiations for the hand of Bianca are dishonest and blatantly acquisitive. On the one hand, Bianca is wealthy in her own right; on the other, her father Baptista (Nicholas Hormann) literally sells her to the highest bidder in a scene that, as staged by Taichman, is very similar to a televised game show. In the pursuit of Bianca as a desirable commodity, servants pretend to be their masters and suitors disguise themselves as tutors to gain access to her home, then to declare their love under false pretenses. (Bruce Nelson, the servant arrogantly trying on the role of his employer, is delightful, as are would-be player Aubrey K. Deeker, who lets his ridiculous pompadour lead the way, and doddering but still romantically inclined J. Fred Schiffman.)
For all the serious implications, this is still a very funny production, although some of the laughs catch in the throat. The moments of slapstick, such as a juggling act involving trays of food, are not that distant from the moment when Petruchio proposes to feed Katherina on the floor, like an animal, then gives her plate to the servants.
Shakespeare Theatre Company