BWW Reviews: Shakespeare and Shootouts: Folger's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW

By: May. 22, 2012
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Shakespeare. Truth be told, in ordinary circumstances, not many are beating down theater doors and knocking over ceramic busts in an effort to catch the latest production of one of England's most prolific playwrights. But when it comes to Folger Theatre's current production of The Taming of the Shrew, they should be. Three words to describe this Wild West rendition: bold, biting, and brilliant.

Shakespeare's characters are not ordinarily rough-and-tumble gunslingers. Nor do his murderous scenes ever include shootouts and stampedes. But perhaps it is these temporary modifications to Shakespeare's cunning plot within Shrew that makes the performance more relatable, more adventurous, and more…well….fun.

The hilarity begins in a saloon in the Italian city of Padua. A young man, Lucentio, one of the few characters without leather boots, arrives with two servants in tow planning to attend the local university. His focus quickly changes when he sees Bianca, a Paduan (does such a thing exist?). Completely lovestruck, Lucentio faces two problems: first, Bianca already has two suitors; and second, Bianca's mother, a wealthy old woman named Baptiste Minola, has mandated that no one may court or marry Bianca until the elder sister is married. Simple enough? Generally, yes. But in this case, the elder sister is the insubordinate, lewd, and wildly uncontrollable Katherine, as played by Kate Eastwood Norris. To say Norris is genius is an understatement. She perfectly creates Katherine's witty, sharp-tongued, outrageous and completely outlandish personality. It is not long before the audience joins Lucentio in falling in love - but this time, it's with Katherine. She brings Shakespeare's incredible wit to life in a way that leaves us begging for more.

Smitten Lucentio disguises himself as Bianca's Latin tutor as an excuse to spend more time with her. One of Bianca's original two suitors does the same, while Lucentio's servants confer with Baptiste Minola about the possibility of marrying her daughter.

With pistol, gun holster, and cowboy hat in tow, Petruchio enters - a saving grace to Bianca's suitors. Petruchio, played by Cody Nickell, is a brash young man from Verona who has traveled to Padua in search of a wife. His only intention is to find a wealthy partner, no matter her beauty or personality. He agrees to marry Katherine sight unseen. Upon their first meeting, they have a tremendous (and hilarious) duel of words. Wit matching wit. The audience knows they are perfect for one another, despite their instant hatred of the opposite sex. Petruchio insists upon the marriage, despite Katherine's refusal, and tells Baptiste that Katherine has agreed to the marriage, a bold lie.

On the wedding day, Petruchio arrives dressed in an outfit that words cannot describe. If anything, venture out to see Shrew for this moment alone. The two are wed, and Petruchio quickly commands that the two must leave for his country house before the feast, telling all in earshot that she is now his property and under his control. Once at the country house, Petruchio continues to "tame" Katherine by keeping her from eating or sleeping for several days under the guise that he loves her so much that he cannot possibly allow her to eat his inferior food or to sleep in his poorly made bed. Nickell's performance during these scenes defines the play. Petruchio is harsh, but comical - and the audience quickly develops a soft spot for him despite his old-fashioned views of marriage. Nickell manages the perfect balance between being obnoxious and monstrous, while still communicating to the audience his completely harmless nature - and his true underlying love for Katherine. These scenes in particular highlight Katherine's vulnerabilities, all expertly extracted through Nickell's performance.

Back in Padua, Lucentio wins Bianca's affections and Baptiste agrees to their marriage. Katherine and Petruchio return to Padua to visit Baptiste. In a key scene, Petruchio "breaks" Katherine, her stubbornness and independence completely dissipating, and she agrees that all is as her husband says. At the banquet following Bianca's wedding, the town is stunned to see Katherine has been "tamed" - she obeys everything Petruchio says and gives a long speech advocating the loyalty and submissiveness of wives to their husbands. This is, after all, still Shakespeare.

Folger's production of Shrew is both memorable and mesmerizing. One does not have to be a lifelong follower of Shakespeare to enjoy this production, nor do they have to have an advanced degree in English. The acting is superb and adds such color to Shakespeare's characters and plot that one forgets the original play was written centuries ago.

In conclusion: beat down the theater doors and knock over the ceramic busts. Do not miss this production of Shrew.

On stage through June 10, 2012, at Folger Theatre in Washington, DC.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Malet


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