Play Review: “Taming of the Shrew”

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Although it is one of my favorite movies from the 1990s high school teen genre, forget about comparing Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” to “10 Things I Hate About You.” We are mature college students now, and more importantly, privileged enough to be only a couple Metro stops from the D.C. Shakespeare Theatre Company playhouse. “The Taming of the Shrew” is currently being performed and is a worthwhile show for its brilliant delivery of Shakespeare in his true verse. The play is one of Shakespeare’s earliest and the comedy is hilarious, complete with 16th century body and sex jokes.

When you first see the set, you can tell the play will be entertaining – the stage set is an innovative vision of contemporary Italy. The fiery red set design dramatically places the audience in the mood for the play’s heat. Above mirrored storefront windows, the enlarged silhouette of a woman’s lower half sensually hangs as if painted onto a billboard. The audience can see their reflection in the mirrors, which is intriguing when considering how an audience can figure into the play’s action. Also, the costume choices appear to be haphazard, but they do inform the character. The most memorable dresses are matching wedding gowns worn by both bride and groom on their wedding day.

The play centers on the relationship between the “intolerable curst, and shrewd” Katherina (Charlayne Woodard) and her arrogant suitor Petruchio (Christopher Innvar). All the men in Padua are in love with Katherina’s younger, beautiful sister Bianca, but she cannot wed until Katherina is married. Katherina is sharp-tongued and the suitors fear she will never marry until brazen Petruchio arrives desiring a wife and her dowry. The men scheme to let Petruchio woo Katherina while all individually trying to win Bianca. Bianca falls for the bachelor disguised as a scholar, and they eventually elope. Though both sisters marry in the play, Shakespeare departs from the conventions of the comic genre and does not end his play with the marriages. Rather, the audience witnesses Katherina’s transformation from a wild shrew to an obedient and loving wife.

With Shakespeare in particular, directors must make decisions about how to stage the characters’ complexities, and the directors’ choices impact the interpretation of the play. Director Rebecca Bayla Taichman said in a news release that she is “interested in opening up the contradictions and the complications rather than ironing them out, and hope to expose the plays most difficult, painful, funny questions rather than present any simple or one-sided answers.”

The real heart of this play lies in the actors’ strong portrayals of their complex characters. Petruchio is a very dynamic character and a convincing brute. His obsession with material wealth and being Katherina’s master makes his sincere affection for Katherina all the more moving. The supporting characters, including the rude mechanicals, are delightfully fun to watch. Notably, Petruchio’s buffoon sidekick Grumio and the zoot suit clad lovelorn suitor Hortensio are comic figures that bring vivacity and personality to their stock characters.

If date night is approaching or if you’re thinking of something else to do, this sexy play is witty and exciting, and you can impress people with your Shakespeare appreciation!

Taming of the Shrew will be at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street NW, until Nov. 8. Student tickets can be purchased for half-off one hour prior to the show.

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