Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The Taming of the Shrew
Over the centuries numerous stage adaptations and movies have come about from this central theme of spousal control, with the most renowned being the 1967 Taylor-Burton film. There has even been an all female version in a 2003 Globe production.
I suspect that all of these attempts to capture the essence of the original must pale in comparison to the current Great Lakes Theater production now on stage in the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland. Director Sara Bruner has given the green light for the actors to expand even the tiniest of roles to epic proportions. In this work there are truly no small parts.
Beautiful and demure Bianca (Mandie Jenson) of the house Minola finds herself with three suitors; the old and elderly Gremio (Lynn Robert Berg), the opportunist Hortensio (Eric David Smith), and the young and truly in love Lucentio (Taha Mandviwala). The only problem is that Bianca's father Baptista (Steve Pickering) will not permit her to wed until her headstrong sister Katherina (Jessika D. Williams) makes the trip to the alter first. Kate is described as a "she-devil" who cannot be tamed.
Enter Petruchio (Jonathan Dyrud), a man of means and a bit of a rake when it comes to women, and his servant Grumio (Joe Wagner) to the city of Padua. Petruchio sees Katherina as not only a challenge but also a financial opportunity, as the dowry includes land and money in large amounts. He makes his intentions known to Baptista, who is only too glad to be rid of the willful daughter. Thus the courtship begins.
In order to win over Katherina, Petruchio uses reverse psychology by pretending that her barbs are all sweet endearments toward him. Seeing that she has no other choice for a suitor, she agrees to wed. Petruchio shows up at the wedding drunk and disheveled and forces Katherina back to his home against her will.
In the meantime, the race to wed Bianca is now in earnest, as the three suitors vie for her affections. A bidding war takes place with more assets bid than any of the suitors actually have. In order to cover this deception, Tranio (Maggie Kettering), a female servant of Lucentio, convinces a passing female merchant (Jodi Dominick) to pretend to be Vincentio, the father of Lucentio, in order to confirm the dowry.
Back with Kate and Petruchio, his campaign to break his new wife's will continues as no food is good enough nor dress fine enough for her. Kate goes hungry and wears the same outfit for days. Problems arise when the real Vincentio (David Anthony Smith) arrives in town and all the masquerades begin to unravel.
With this play, it is all in the details. Jonathan Dyrud is perfect as Petruchio, with his dry wit and accepting nature. Jessika D. Williams is a firebrand as Katherina, asking no quarter and taking no prisoners. The real stars of the show are Joe Wegner as Grumio, whose athletic antics brought the house down with laughter at the performance I attended; Jodi Dominick as the merchant/Vincentio with her "Naw Joussy" (New Jersey) voice drawing laughs with each line she spoke; and Maggie Kettering as Tranio, whose instant transformation of a bustle into a codpiece brought down the house. Lastly, there is Lynn Robert Berg as Gremio with his Python-esque silly walk that had people rolling in the aisles every time he cantered about the stage.
The stage design is a repeat of the Hamlet Elizabethan theater setting, with onstage seating that the actors take full liberties in interacting with. An audience members is recruited for the part of sheriff and is given a curtain call, to much cheering from the delighted crowd.
In Great Lakes Theater's production of The Taming of the Shrew, high jinks, disguises and impersonations abound and all the comedy stops are pulled for laughs. This is a rollicking depiction that is laugh out loud funny and one that will help you forget the weather for a few hours. It is must see theater that will bring cheer to the entire family.
The Taming of the Shrew, through April 14, 2019, at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.greatlakestheater.org, by phone by calling 216-241-6000 or by stopping by the Playhouse Square box office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.