Chicago Theatre Review
Girl Power at its Finest
Taming of the Shrew – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
In Artistic Director Barbara Gaines’ exquisitely reimagined new production, audiences, both new to the Bard and old friends of his witty works, will be in for a delicious treat. Here’s a wonderfully fresh revision of the world’s greatest playwright, all wrapped up in a beautifully designed, superbly acted package that’s actually a play-within-a-play. The director puts a clever contemporary, yet historical spin on this battle of the sexes; and Ms. Gaines has, as is often the case at CST, made Shakespeare timely and supremely accessible for audiences of all ages.
Long considered to be one of the Bard’s most controversial plays because of its misogynistic, chauvinistic depiction of male and female relationships, Ms. Gaines has spun the tale of Kate and Petruchio into something brand new. Writer Ron West has fashioned a unique framing device that’s reset the play in Chicago. Set on a rainy night in 1919 within the parlor of the Columbia Women’s Club, it’s the eve when Congress will vote to decide women’s suffrage. The ladies, most of whom have spent the day marching and fighting for the right to vote, are rehearsing their all-female production of Shakespeare’s comedy. As their final rehearsal progresses, interrupted by a myriad of outside challenges and difficulties, it becomes increasingly obvious that their choice of play echoes the social movement and the political climate of the time.
West has created a diverse cast of fascinating new characters who are the Club’s members and also portraying Shakespeare’s characters. What we now have is a delightful, energetic, up-to-date comedy that’s full of romance, intrigue, action, word play, flirtation, funny characters and a sound message about love and the evils of giving in to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Gaines’ production begins with a smartly acted, professionally rehearsed early scene from Shakespeare’s play that suddenly comes to a halt. We’re then provided the who, what, where, when and why of this amateur theatrical, now in progress. Under the tight directorship of Club President, Mrs. Mildred Sherman, assisted by Mrs. Dorothy Mercer, with technical support provided by custodial member, Miss Judith Smith, the Bard’s play is presented for us in small segments, interspersed with the events and drama of the evening. As the play-within-a-play progresses, the politics of and relationships between the Club members are soon revealed.
This production, beautifully acted and sumptuously costumed by Susan E. Mickey in both colorfully detailed Victorian and Elizabethan finery, is crystal clear and hits all the right points. It cleverly illuminates the parallel political similarities, during both the Elizabethan era and Edwardian times. In choosing to set the play in this way, Ms. Gaines has also illuminated America’s current political climate. Peopled with humorous, yet realistic characters (particularly Hollis Resnik’s Gremio, Cindy Gold’s Vincentio and Heidi Kettenring’s Tranio), filled with scenes of uncompromising verbal combat and well-paced action, this Shrew makes perfect sense at every turn. The old controversy concerning the play’s chauvinism fades away, especially as the wonderful Alexandra Henrikson, as Katherine, delivers her final monologue. During this speech, we learn that Kate hasn’t really been tamed but, rather, has fallen deeply in love with Petruchio and has willingly accepted her role as his wife. She sees herself sharing his strong personalty, and may even be expressing some sarcasm as she pretends to be transformed.
Ms. Henrikson’s Kate is a model of restraint. Where a lesser actress might give in to histrionics and over-the-top physicality, this Kate could easily be a familiar, feisty neighbor lady, a young wife, stubbornly avoiding the pressure of her peers, as well as the sagely advice of her father, Baptista, a role expertly and humorously played by E. Faye Butler. Only through the love demonstrated by Crystal Lucas-Perry’s equally restrained and sensitively played Petruchio does this Shrew become tamed.
Barbara Gaines’ novel approach to Shakespeare’s classic is smart, sassy and all spruced up in this wonderfully intoxicating production. The Director presents a refreshing and entertaining new look at this beloved, yet controversial comedy, offering a fresh and original vision that makes the Bard’s characters and ideas feel more contemporary and significant. Set within Kevin Depinet’s sumptuous scenic design, lit with sparkling, intensity by Thomas C. Hase and accented with original music and sound by David Van Tieghem (along with expert vocal musical direction by Roberta Duchak), this production is most certainly an entertaining show of girl power at its strongest and finest.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 16-November 12 by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in their Courtyard stage on Navy Pier, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the CST box office, by calling them at 312-595-5600 or by going to www.chicagoshakes.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.