The Taming of the Shrew

Ashland, OR
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The Taming of the Shrew at Oregon ShakespeareThe Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

There’s so much chemistry between Vilma Silva’s Katherina and Michael Elich’s Petruchio that this male chauvinism manual almost escapes its own words.  Silva is a striking, confident, beautiful woman.  Elich is vigorous and sexy in a way that seems unique to wiry bald men.  Together on stage the are in love and lust.

This production is a straight-on shrew taming.  No winks, nods, or knowing looks that sometimes indicate that Kate is complicit in a charade.  No, in this staging Kate and Petruchio may be in love, but Kate learns submission to her man.

I have a difficult time cheering a great production that is delivering an unsavory message.  Not only does this Shrew avoid a socially redeeming nuance, it instead revels in providing an excellent exposition in proper male and female role models.  The night creeped me out.

Oddly, the most enthusiastic praise of the evening came from women in the audience.  The on-stage physical tension apparently made the male dominance in the text okay?  One female friend waxed eloquent on how Kate’s instructions to the other wives on how to behave was the clearest and best she’d ever seen.  Well, yes, but…

When I tried to voice discomfort over the literalness of this production I was cut off with the question that didn’t I know that a woman directed the show?  Well, yes, but…

Where’s Billy Jean King smacking Bobby Riggs when I need her?

The show maintains excellent production values and fine acting throughout.  The staging and costumes are conventional and supportive of the evening’s theme.  Sarah Rutan offers a satisfying, non-bimbo, non-bitchy good daughter Bianca.  Jeffrey King is an understandable father (Baptista).

Bianca’s suitors, Danforth Comings (Lucentio), James Edmondson (the older Gremio), and Shad Willingham (Hortensio) deliver Shakespeare’s characters flawlessly and with individual flair.  (Note to incoming artistic director Bill Rausch: please stop casting Willingham as the big goof in every play. He does it well, but I am getting tired of him doing the same part in every production.) 

The third-tier characters also contribute to the flawless delivery of the flawed message.  Petruchio’s servants, Robin Goodrin Nordli (Grumio) and cute Tasso Feldman (Curtis), are just antic enough to move the narration along in a happy way. The random city folk are equally skilled: Jeff Cummings (Tranio), Robert Vincent Frank (pedant), Catherine Coulson (tailor), and Dee Maaske (haberdasher). 

Suzanne Irving’s stepped in as the understudy for the widow in the show we saw.  She gave a fine performance from our close-up seats, but friends in row 8 said that she was inaudible.  The other negative note was Tony DeBruno’s cardboard Vincentio (Lucentio’s father).  I didn’t recognize DeBruno in costume and had thought that this minor role was being filled by a non-Equity beginner until the playbill told me the truth. Tsk, tsk, Tony for phoning in your lifeless and amateurish performance.

This Taming is probably worth seeing just because it’s doubtful that many directors let the show go on as written, without attempting to reconcile Shakespeare to today’s political correctness.  The company does a remarkable job supporting the book.  The palatable heat between the shrew and her tamer actually does provide understandable motivation for Kate’s submission.  Yes, but…

This is a play I just don’t have to see again, especially when performed so straightly.  Ozdachs’ rating: Three Syntaxes out of Five.

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