Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hijinks and Sly Humor in Savage Rose’s Taming of the Shrew

Kelly Moore as Kate and Ryan Watson as Grumio in
The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Harlan Taylor.

The Taming of the Shrew

By William Shakespeare
Directed by J. Barrett Cooper

Review by Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

Savage Rose’s production of TheTaming of the Shrew opened at Walden Theatre this weekend and is running in rep with The Rover. It’s really funny, and a little raunchy at times, but overall a quality production.

In case you don’t know the story, it’s set in 14th century Italy, where the brutish Petruchio (Tony Pike) schemes to marry the shrewish Katharina (Kelly Moore). His wager is that he can “tame” her into submission. Meanwhile, other suitors scheme to marry Katharina’s younger sister, Bianca, who cannot marry until her shrewish sister is wed first.

As director J. Barrett Cooper points out in the program, The Taming of the Shrew is tricky because of the misogynistic themes. There is something about the idea that a woman should submit to a man that doesn’t sit well with modern audiences. There is also the brutal way in which Petruchio sets out to tame Kate that makes it even more difficult. The director does well to confront these issues honestly, and without trying to make the work something that it is not, or denying some of the inherent misogyny that is so much a part of the world of the play. 

Tony Pike as Petruchio makes some strong choices as an actor, which helps soften some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the show. He forgoes playing Petruchio as overly clever, or vicious, but more like a blowhard. He is someone who, like Kate, is headstrong, bawdy, and over-the-top. He is also competitive, but when he realizes he has pushed Kate too far, he eases off and comforts her. That’s the key, I think, and where the choice is a little more textured. Petruchio doesn’t stop tormenting Kate because she’s submitted, but because he finally empathizes with her and wants her to be happy. The submission then becomes part of Kate’s choice to make the marriage work. Pike takes it all the way, playing Petruchio as a complete brute, but also a likeable one. You get the feeling that deep down he doesn’t really intend to be such an ass.  

There is strong chemistry between Petruchio and Katharina, and Kelly Moore is a good and worthy sparring partner for Pike. They find a way to suggest that underneath the fighting the two really like each other and the submission dominance starts to seem almost like a flirtation. This doesn’t update any of those old ideas, but it does make them more palatable and familiar. The other good choice is that Kate doesn’t lose her spirit; she remains strong, proud but not combative, and the play becomes more about her growth and refinement rather than her break down.   

Cooper also added the Christopher Sly ending, which makes the story come full circle. It leaves us with Christopher Sly (Monte Priddy) being chased out by his own shrewish wife. It might be that the discomfort that the play elicits along with the truthful humor about men and women is what actually keeps the play fresh and present and raises it above your everyday farce.

The shows got a little slow toward the end, but for the most part it stayed sharp. The cast of oddball characters and the commitment of the actors kept it moving. Tony Prince as Gremio was very funny, and the very idea that he would take Bianca home was slightly unsettling. There are some good gags in there; Savage Rose seems to have a propensity for the offbeat. The text got muddled in a couple of the group scenes, and there was one scene in which Biondello (Marie Claire Natalie) did speed through information without taking a breath in between. It was a fun gag in theory, but the text got so garbled I felt like I was missing important information. The cast is strong, and they know their Shakespeare, tackling the text with skill and sly humor.

The Taming of the Shrew

March 15-30, 2013 (in repertory with The Rover)

Savage Rose Classical Theater Company
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage at Walden Theatre
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
CALL 502-599-3011

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