Corrections or additions?

This reveiw by Jack Florek was prepared for the August 16, 2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Taming of the Shrew’

Sometimes misogyny is found in the eye of the beholder.

Princeton Rep’s Shakespeare Festival winds up its sixth summer with

an original yet respectful rendition of "The Taming of the

Shrew,"

arguably the Bard’s most controversial work. Feminist critics and

playgoers alike have pointed to Shakespeare’s romantic comedy as a

prime example of innate male misogyny. ("All men are brutes, even

Shakespeare.")

This is due in part to Katherine’s remarkable closing speech about

a woman’s need to be properly submissive to the whims of her

domineering

husband.

Such duty as the subject owes the prince,

Even such a woman oweth to her husband.

And when she is forward, pee- vish, sullen, sour,

And not obedient to his honest will,

What is she but a foul contend- ing rebel

And graceless traitor to her loving lord?

Such unabashed sexism would probably be most at home these days

on Comedy Central’s "Man Show." Is this Shakespeare’s personal

attitude to the gender question? Or is there, as this production

demonstrates, irony at work?

Originally written in the 1590s, Princeton Rep director Victoria

Liberatori

has updated her Shakespeare to Italy in the late 1970s, the

international

Age of Travolta. The swaggering Petruchio (Donald Kimmel), decked

out in a lemon-yellow suit, and possessing all the charm of a used

car salesman, attempts to woo and wed Katherine (Missy Thomas), the

incorrigible eldest daughter of Baptista. Petruchio’s plan is to

subject

Kate to a barrage of verbal and physical indignities, under the guise

of kindness, with the ultimate goal of breaking her will, like a

cowboy

breaks a horse.

Despite superb resistance, Kate is eventually willing to swear that

the sun is the moon and that a doddering old man is a beautiful young

woman, if Petruchio says so.

Bianca (Julie Lund), Katherine’s lusty younger sister, must wait her

turn in the marriage order, despite being pursued by a slew of wealthy

suitors led by Lucentio (Adin Alai), Hortensio (Erik Sherr), and

Gremio

(Richard Bourg). This doesn’t stop her from seizing some of the finer

fruits of marriage, as evidenced by the package of birth control pills

she tucks into her purse.

Liberatori’s lively direction of this old story has all the

pop-bang-zing

of a Loony Tune, making even simple entrances occasions for adventure.

Characters arrive on motorbikes and motor scooters, burst through

doorways, play soccer, dance, sing, jiggle, and strut. Once onstage,

the onslaught continues, as nobody seems capable of standing still

for more than a moment. At one point there is actually a three-way

juggling act at center stage.

Missy Thomas’s strong performance as Katherine is the key to the

success

and redemptive message of this production. She plays her Kate with

a subtle dignity and emotional depth — along with a fine sense

of comedy — that assures the audience that she would never consent

to become anybody’s victim.

As her lover and adversary Petruchio, Donald Kimmel also has delicate

duty and plays his part exceptionally well. He carries with him an

air of likability, never allowing his character to fall into loutish

behavior. Together they create an onstage chemistry that sizzles with

sexual energy and reminds us, once again, why people still bother

to fall in love.

Julie Lund is sufficiently bubble-headed as the sex-obsessed Bianca,

a teeny-bopper infatuated with her "Saturday Night Fever"

album and more than a little aware of her hormonal effects on men.

Adin Alai is hunky as Bianca’s love interest, Lucentio. And Erik Sherr

is particularly hilarious as her would-be suitor, Hortensio, playing

him with the goofy, screwed-too-tight intensity of the Atlanta Braves

pitcher John Rocker. Karen Traynor, as the servant Biondello, plays

her role as a kind of female Daffy Duck, hepped up on milkshakes

and Twinkies.

Costumes by Marianne Powell-Parker are beautiful without being

ostentatious.

She has the eye of a painter, using muted harlequin colors to attract

and direct the eye (a yellow cap there, a scarlet scarf here, a

sea-blue

dress over there). Galt MacDermot’s music, written especially for

this production, is equally understated, successfully complementing

the general theatricality of the onstage goings on.

Outdoor Shakespeare is always a risk, with the threat of rain foremost

this year. (Last week’s storm wreaked $10,000-worth of tent damage

and nearly shut the production down; donations are being accepted.)

There are also honking geese, crickets that sound like a distant buzz

saw, and the occasional woo-woo-woo of Princeton’s finest.

So is "The Taming of the Shrew" an exercise in misogyny? Does

Petruchio break Katherine’s spirit like a horse? Or is Katherine and

Petruchio’s meeting, rather, a case of love at first sight ( a

Shakespearean

favorite) of two complicated and independent-minded people?

Princeton Rep brings a fresh, sexy, and intelligent edge to all these

familiar questions.

— Jack Florek

The Taming of the Shrew, Princeton Rep’s Shakespeare

Festival , Pettoranello Gardens, Mountain Avenue & Route 206,

609-688-0381.

Two Thursday performances have been added to the show that will play

Thursday through Sunday, at 7 p.m. (weather permitting), through

August

27. Free, but $10 donation requested.

Tickets are distributed at Fleet Financial Solutions Center, 16 Nassau

Street, from Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday

from 9 a.m. to noon.

Tickets are also available at Pettoranello Gardens on the evening

of the performance. Website: www.princetonrep.org.


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