Capital Repertory Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” leaves much to be desired. Still, there are some things to enjoy.
First and foremost, there is the play itself. It’s a honey. If finely executed and deeply understood by director and actors, this inspired text can zip along merrily with ribald intentions and bravado to its obvious conclusion: the joyful pairing of Kate and Petruchio.
This production, however, though a crowd-pleaser on opening night, is directed with a heavy hand by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. It often drags with superfluous business added. And Petruchio’s attempts to “tame” the shrewish Kate become mean-spirited and quite simply sadistic.
You know the story. Petruchio (Eric Martin Brown) comes to Padua (in this case Padua in the late 1950s) to “wive it wealthily.” He makes no pretense of looking for love. He meets the formidable Katherine (Kim Stauffer), whose father Baptista (Terry Rabine) has decided must be married before her supposedly delightful sister Bianca (Ginny Myers Lee) can be wed.
Bianca has many suitors because she is the essence of so-called femininity. Katherine’s independent nature, her freedom of spirit, and her unwillingness to conform to male expectations make her unmarriegable, a “scold” and a “shrew.” Kate’s nature, her volubility and boldness, is key to the success or failure of this play. If she is merely a shrew, she fails to engage.
In some preshow publicity, a comparison is made to Hepburn and Tracy, who frequently engaged in a battle of wits in their films — a tone similarly found in Shakespeare’s play. The problem here is that Hepburn’s intelligence, her joy, her abundance of spirit is not in evident in this production. And Tracy’s keen sense of acting out the truth of a scene is sorely lacking.
The famous “wooing” scene, which I always happily anticipate, was a complete disappointment. For one thing, the actors never broke a sweat. The scene was amateurishly and awkwardly choreographed by Parker Cross, and it was devoid of nuance. What was he thinking as he engineered this scene, which foreshadows the couple’s future life together? It is in this scene that Katherine discovers she may have found a match for her courageous personality. Petruchio is no bowing and scraping male who will place her on a pedestal and forget her; he will become her partner in a lifelong, if combustible, alliance.
At some point, these fabulous lovers must come to the conclusion that they will play a joke on the world and burst the bubble of complacent, self-righteous male dominance. And they do. Katherine’s final speech should make passionate testament to the bond they share. As delivered by Stauffer, in conversationally flat tones, it does not.
The choice by Mancinelli-Cahill to set the show in the 1950s was a good one. It placed the story in a recognizable context. Petruchio’s entrance on a motor bike, the ’50s-perfect costumes (Barbara Wolfe), and the use of an adding machine to make account of the assets of Bianca’s suitors were fun. But lovers of Shakespeare will only wince at the production’s lack of insight.