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Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

The Taming of the Shrew
Old Globe Theatre

Also see Bill's review of Surf Report

Taming of the Shrew
Jonno Roberts
Virgil's dictum that "Love conquers all" was a common theme in Shakespeare's plays, but The Taming of the Shrew is not an obvious candidate for this meme. And yet, that's exactly the tack taken by Ron Daniels' funny and sure-to-be-discussed production for the Old Globe's annual summer Shakespeare Festival.

Contemporary directors and audiences generally think of The Taming of the Shrew as a "problem play" to stage, mainly because of its grating misogynist language and its seeming glorification of women's submission to men. Directors have tried different approaches to this problem, from showing Kate the Shrew with her fingers crossed as she submits to her lover Petruchio, to emphasizing the physical humor in the style of Italian commedia dell'arte, to making Petruchio and Kate into early 17th century versions of George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Companies often turn this play over to women directors, many times with insightful and surprising results: director Rebecca Bayla Taichman's 2007 production for the Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, D.C., featured Petruchio wearing a wedding dress during the marriage ceremony.

Mr. Daniels and Deirdre Clancy, his crack costume designer, have kept the period of the play roughly within 100 years of when it was written. It is a man's world, where all of the servants are male, and Mr. Daniels' production emphasizes that world through macho choreography (by Tony Caligagan) and at one point turning the servers into a glee club (fun, but watch the sagging pitch on the interior parts, guys).

It is also a world where marriages are arranged between families primarily for financial considerations. There are rules, though: a man in Baptista Minola's (Adrian Sparks) position must marry off his less-than-desirable elder daughter Katherine (Emily Swallow), who delights in scaring away potential suitors, and provide her with a substantial dowry before allowing his beautiful younger daughter Bianca (a very lovely Bree Welch) to marry and provide him with a dowry in return. Women such as Kate didn't have much choice: if her father came to an agreement with a man, she was obliged to marry that man. So, becoming a scary shrew was a logical reaction to this dilemma. Women such as Bianca, whose beauty could attract multiple suitors, rich ones such as Gremio (Joseph Marcell) and Lucentio (Jay Whittaker) and poor ones such as Hortensio (Donald Carrier), had much more leeway to be courted and marry for love.

Mr. Daniels imagines that Kate is taken with the handsome, well-spoken, but impoverished Petruchio (a sexy Jonno Roberts) at their first meeting. She gets that Petruchio is trying to save his estate by marrying her, and she's impressed that he may sound domineering but actually woos her with more kindness than sharp words. She willingly endures the torments of making the journey from her father's home to Petruchio's estate and though old habits die hard she puts up with his post-wedding "initiation" ceremony of food and sleep deprivation. She's able to make these sacrifices because of her unyielding love for Petruchio, and doing so ends up putting her on a much more favorable (and equal) footing with him in their marriage.

Because Kate's story has been de-emphasized somewhat, more of the action focuses on the wooing of Bianca, and the audience gets to see why Kate decided to scare away potential suitors, as Bianca's are too old, too unattractive, or too weak. Even the one she eventually marries is on the run from his family obligations, not a great position from which to start a marriage.

Adrian Noble, who is serving as Artistic Director for this summer's Festival, has stated that he wants audiences to hear the plays rather than see them, and Mr. Daniels, who served as Mr. Noble's associate at Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, has taken this admonition to heart. His staging invariably complements the play's text, and the acting company invariably speaks that text with a clarity that is rare in U.S. productions of Shakespeare.

Ms. Swallow embraces Mr. Daniels' vision of Kate, even though it means that her role in is a diminished one. Mr. Roberts is lively at every turn, and Ralph Funicello's scenic design, which includes on-stage audience seating, allows him to bounce off of everyone, including audience members, with great spontaneity. The large supporting cast turns in high quality, energetic performances. No matter whether you believe that Mr. Daniels has made his case, The Taming of the Shrew is a delight to hear—and watch.

Performances continue through September 26 at the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. The repertory also includes King Lear and The Madness of King George III, both of which are directed by Mr. Noble. Performances are arranged so that audiences can see all three plays across a three-day period. Tickets ($29 - $78; $19 for onstage seating) are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623], or by visiting The Old Globe's website.

The Old Globe presents The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Directed by Ron Daniels with scenic design by Ralph Funicello, costume design by Deirdre Clancy, lighting design by Alan Burrett, sound design and original music by Christopher R. Walker, fight director Steve Rankin, movement sequences by Tony Caligagan, and vocal and dialect coaching by Claudia Hill-Sparks. The stage manager is James Latus, with assistance from Erin Gioia Albrecht, Moira Gleason, and Annette Yé. Samantha Barrie, CSA, did the casting.

With Michael Stewart Allen (Tranio), Shirine Babb (Widow), Donald Carrier (Hortensio), Craig Dudley (Tailor, Vincentio), Charles Janasz (Pedant, Curtis), Joseph Marcell (Gremio), Jordan McArthur (Biondello), Jonno Roberts (Petruchio), Adrian Sparks (Baptista Minola), Emily Swallow (Katherine), Bruce Turk (Grumio), Bree Welch (Bianca) and Jay Whittaker (Lucentio) and including Andrew Dahl, Grayson DeJesus, Ben Diskant, Christian Durso, Kevin Hoffmann, Andrew Hutcheson and Steven Marzolf (Ensemble).


Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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