BWW Review: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW at City Theatre Misses The Mark With The Bard
William Shakespeare's comedies have become a staple of summertime theatre the world over. City Theatre's production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is one of several of the Bard's best playing in Austin in the next few weeks. Unfortunately this lackluster presentation misses the mark on multiple levels.
Likely written between 1593 and 1594 (sources differ on the dates), THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is one of Shakespeare's earlier comedies before such works as A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING or TWELFTH NIGHT. Always a popular favorite SHREW has entertained audiences for over 400 years though the subject matter has colored production concepts in more recent times.
The play begins as Christopher Sly, a drunkard is found passed out in the streets by a passing Lord and his attendants. They concoct an elaborate ruse to make the lowly Sly believe he is a nobleman by putting him in rich surroundings while he is unconscious. The drunkard awakes and begins to believe the joke being played upon him as the Lord engages players to present a play for Sly's amusement. That play is THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.
Many productions of the play cut this induction scene because it does little to further the story and many scholars believe it to be incomplete because Sly does not appear again to finish the framing scene at the end. The principal part of the play begins with Lucentio (Doug Costello) a wealthy young man from Verona has traveled with his servant Tranio (Levi Gore) to Padua to further his education. While standing in the street he eavesdrops on a family drama playing out with Baptista Minola (Kevin Smith) and his daughters Katherina (Shelby Miller) and Bianca (Angelica Elliot). Two suitors, Hortensio (Nick Gollihugh) and Gremio (Michael Meigs) both want to marry the younger daughter Bianca but her father refuses to allow her to wed until her older sister has marched down the aisle. However no one wants to marry Kate due to her insubordinate female nature and her sharp tongue. Lucentio switches places with his servant Tranio in order to present himself as a tutor to Bianca while his attendant presents himself around town as the young lord. Petruchio (Brittany Flurry), a young gentleman seeking a rich wife enters with his servant Grumio and declares, "I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua". He's ready to take on shrewish Kate in order to claim her rich dowry.
While baffled by Petruchio's confidence that he will succeed, Bianca's suitors are eager be rid of their impediment to wooing and happily agree to introduce him to Baptista. After securing her father's consent by trickery, Petruchio and Kate are married and the real battle of wills begins. The obvious brutal misogyny of Petruchio's 'taming' has not stood the test of time; modern productions often temper the macho demands with a wily, intelligent Kate who becomes her husband's partner as opposed to his servant. It takes a skilled director and able actors to play off the abuse Kate endures and create a marital meeting of the minds. Unfortunately City Theatre's production fails to do this.
Anyone who knows me or has read my reviews knows how much I love Shakespeare, I have a special place in my heart for THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, a fast-paced witty play, filled with lots of physical comedy. Unfortunately this production lacked all of these elements. The show that I saw on opening night was dull, slow, sadly lacking in spirit and chemistry. The chief gimmick of this particular production is that two women, Flurry and Miller switch the roles of Kate and Petruchio every other night. The concept is sound, it has been played in a similar fashion before, but it fails in this instance, utterly lacking the commitment required to back up a bold choice.
Costumed in modern dress one would expect an updated sensibility to the production, but little was done to create a relatable bond with the audience. Pacing was plodding and scene changes were almost painful in length. Entrances and exits were haphazard and unmotivated further slowing the pace. The lone acting standouts were Michael Meigs as Gremio, the old suitor competing for Bianca's hand. His physical investment in the character never wavered, he embodied the frustrated aged bachelor perfectly, every wave of his cane was wonderful.
Levi Gore as Tranio fought valiantly to quicken the pace among his cast mates, giving a wholehearted sincerity to the role swap with Lucentio. The remainder of the cast lacked both character depth and commitment to the action of the play. When such overriding failures in production occur the blame must fall at the door of the director. Noted local Shakespearean scholar Kevin Gates is at the helm of this show and his direction almost seems nonexistent. I admit myself seriously disappointed with virtually every facet of this production, it was flat where it should be effervescent, plodding where it should be swift and lackluster where it should sparkle.
I am unable to recommend TAMING OF THE SHREW at City Theatre, the nearly 3 hour running time seemed much longer. Do yourself a favor and check out another summer Shakespeare performance, give this one a miss.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kevin Gates
City Theatre, Airport Blvd, Austin
June 2 - 25
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes with one 10 minute intermission
Tickets: $15 - $25 citytheatreaustin.org