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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Taming of the Shrew

Taming of the Shrew
Kate Eastwood Norris and Cody Nickell
The current production of The Taming of the Shrew at Washington's Folger Theatre takes a little getting used to. Once the viewer understands that director Aaron Posner has instructed his cast to work in a heightened style, heavy with exaggerated emotion, it's entertaining—and more goofy than vicious.

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 appeal—from the metallic brocades and deep colors worn by the wealthier characters to Petruchio's backwoods wedding costume—and Tony Cisek's scenic design is sweetly silly in its depiction of Petruchio's rustic home.

Folger Theatre
The Taming of the Shrew
May 1st - June 10th
By William Shakespeare
The Blind Balladeer: Cliff Eberhardt
Baptista Minola, a wealthy businesswoman: Sarah Marshall
Katherine Minola, her elder daughter: Kate Eastwood Norris
Bianca Minola, her younger daughter: Sarah Mollo-Christensen
Petruchio, a gambler, suitor to Katherine: Cody Nickell
Grumio, his trusty, flamboyant servant: Danny Scheie
Hortensio, his good friend, suitor to Bianca: Marcus Kyd
Gremio, a wealthy old fellow, suitor to Bianca: Craig Wallace
Lucentio, a wealthy young fellow, suitor to Bianca: Thomas Keegan
Tranio, his very clever female servant: Holly Twyford
Biondello, his far less clever male servant: James Gardiner
Vincentio, his father, a wealthy man: Dave Gamble
The Pedant, a traveling pedant: Edward Christian
The Widow, a wealthy widow: Katy Carkuff
The Tailor: Rex Daugherty
The Haberdasher: Katy Carkuff
The Bartender: Edward Christian
The Priest: Dave Gamble
Petruchio's Home Servants:
Curtis: Rex Daugherty
Peter: Katy Carkuff
Nathaniel: Edward Christian
Walter: Dave Gamble
Rafe: James Gardiner
Sugarsop: Sarah Mollo-Christensen
Directed by Aaron Posner
201 E. Capitol St., S.E.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-544-7077 or www.folger.edu


Photo: ©Carol Pratt


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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