By William Shakespeare
Directed by Josie Rourke
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater
With new introduction scenes written by Neil LaBute
Tampering with Taming
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
“Taming of the Shrew” — one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed plays — has survived innumerable incarnations on stage and in film – some more successful than others. While Neil LaBute’s additions do offer humorous and entertaining moments, his version unfortunately damages rather than enhances the drama.
His introductory frame starts out innocuously and interestingly enough. Cast and crew prepare for a technical rehearsal. While some stagehands busily bustle around, vacuuming, others test props. The stage manager (William Dick) calls for adjustments to the lighting. The cast takes their places; action begins, and then is interrupted by directorial comments.
And then (caution: spoilers are coming) relationships are revealed. The actors playing Bianca (Katherine Cunningham) and Kate (Bianca Amato) are current lovers. Kate also has another, longer-standing lesbian relationship with the Director (Mary Beth Fisher).
This intrusive story fragments the original plot, adding layers of irrelevancy, and – most important – shifting the focus so that much of the delight of Shakespeare’s play is simply lost. In a love story where a younger daughter cannot wed until her older, sharp-tongued sister marries, much depends on the interplay of couples and their sexual chemistry. (Think Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.) There is none between this Kate and Petruchio (Ian Bedford).
When Kate tells the Director how she really feels about all men, and especially the actor playing Petruchio (bad breath included) there is no way to sustain any illusion of romance – and this has always been a romantic story (until now).
The framing story, however, is so well acted that it could – and should — stand alone as a one-act play. As it is now, the tale of an unsuccessful lesbian relationship, illustrating power struggles between the lovers not only echoes but also usurps the relationship between Petruchio and Kate.
Then, there is the vulgarity to consider. Yes, this is a broad, bawdy play, now made even more so. The large codpieces are funny. Petruchio’s rather fleshy bare buttocks are less so. There are many humorous moments, but if ever an interpretation pandered to the lowest common denominator of humor, it is this one.
And then there is the ending – a startling one (I won’t tell this spoiler) which yanks the audience back from Shakespeare to LaBute.
What was worth praising?
- The whole casts’ considerable acting skills.
- The stage set, complete with the many humorous flaws fixed between the tech and dress rehearsals.
- Fisher’s well delivered monologue opening Act II (the dress rehearsal) where, as the Director, she lays out all the pain of a ruptured relationship.
- Mike Nussbaum as the elderly, frail and wizened Gremio, one of Bianca’s suitors.
- Sean Fortunato as the other suitor, Hortensio, chewing on the earpiece of his spectacles while pretending to teach Bianca how to play the lute.
- The cute little white dog Bianca receives as a gift.
Question of the evening: why did anyone feel it was necessary for LaBute to create the frame? The explanation offered in the program book makes reference to Shakespeare’s original introduction dealing with a character named Christopher Sly – noting that this introduction – which adds nothing to the play — is most often cut. They should follow suit.
NOTE: On two Thursday afternoons from 12:45 TO 2:45 at the Norris University Center, Northwestern University’s continuing education course in Chicago Theater 2010, will offer lectures dealing with this production:
April 29, with Associate Professor Cindy Gold
May 6, with Barbara Grimes, Artistic Director, Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
The cost for each lecture is $20 and is payable at the door. For further information about the lectures or parking, call 847-604-3569.
At the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Ave., www.chicagoshakes.com, 312-595-5600, tickets $55-$75, runs Wednesdays 1 and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m. Running time is 2 hours and 55 minutes with a 15 minute intermission, through June 6.