Theater Review: THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Boston)

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by Lynne Weiss on September 17, 2023

in Theater-Boston,Theater-Regional


What to do about The Taming of the Shrew, a play that seems to glorify the subjugation of women? Actors’ Shakespeare Project offers an intriguing and very entertaining answer. Under the direction of ASP Artistic Director Christopher V. Edwards, this cast — with only one male performer, Michael Broadhurst as Christopher Sly/Katherine — turns the script on its head to offer a delightful skewering of toxic masculinity. Designer Ben Lieberson sets the tale in Bottom’s Dream, a 1970s Boston disco bar complete with disco ball and cigarette machine. Elizabeth Cahill‘s disco soundtrack and Chelsea Kerl’s seventies-era costuming (plaid pants!) are groovy fun.

 Patrice Jean-Baptiste

The show opens with the littleused Induction scenes from Shakespeare’s original play. With some minimal tweaking, these scenes frame the more familiar tale of Kate and Petruchio as a play-within-a-play. In the original, a Lord and his companions seek amusement by trying to convince a passed-out drunk they find in front of an alehouse that he is actually a nobleman by taking him home, surrounding him with luxury, and entertaining him with an uplifting comedy. In the ASP version, this passed-out party boy is ”rescued” by a group of women who take him home, dress him in a fuchsia teddy and a silk robe, and try to convince him he is a woman before not only presenting him with the comedy but convincing him to act in it.

The combination of the women’s insistence (and some party drugs) do the trick, and soon our boy finds himself cast in the role of Katherine (also called Katrina and Kate), the notorious “shrew” and daughter of wealthy Baptista (Lisa Tucker) who must be married off before her younger and much-courted sister Bianca (Julia Hertzberg) can marry. Petruchio (Patrice Jean-Baptiste), enticed by Katherine’s fortune, steps up to the task of courting the older daughter and proceeds to “tame” Katherine.

Paige Clark, Joni Weisfeld, Hampton Richards and Julia Hertzberg

Aided by clowning consultant Michael Toomey, this production becomes a mockery of masculine ego and competitiveness. Jean-Baptiste is hilarious, as are Bianca’s various suitors Lucentio (Paige Clark), Gremio (Jade Guerra), and Hortensio (Kira Gandolfo), and their assistants Biondello (Hampton Edwards), and Grumio (Elena Toppo), and most notably, Tranio (Joni Weisfeld), who in true Shakespeare style, trades places with his master Lucentio. They compete for Bianca’s hand as though they are game-show contestants, rivaling one another through claims of wealth and sexual prowess. There are still uncomfortable moments involving chains and the withholding of food, as well as the dismemberment of stuffed animals.

Joni Weisfeld, Hampton Richards and Mary Mahoney

Katherine’s final speech, in which she tells Bianca and the widow Hortensio that she has married that Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,” it is delivered not as evidence of Petruchio’s skill in taming nor as Kate’s recognition of her true place in the world, but as a somber and grief-filled description of the way things were in that time and place. As always with Actors’ Shakespeare productions, a brief black-out gives way to the full cast dancing on stage, in this case, to Boney M.’s 1976 hit “Sunny.” The song includes this line: “The dark days are gone and the bright days are here.” In the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, at least, while ASP has the stage, the dark days of the subjugation of women as endorsed by the men in this play have been supplanted by the bright days of mocking the dominant form of masculinity wherein men use dominance, violence, and control to assert their power and superiority.

photos by Ken Yotsukura Photography

The Taming of the Shrew
Actors’ Shakespeare Project
Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, 525 Washington St. in Boston
ends on October 1, 2023
for tickets ($20-$59.50), visit Actors’ Shakespeare Project

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