Beverly FriendTheatre Reviews

Taming of the Shrew

By William Shakespeare

the taming of the shrew, chicago shakespeare 2010
The Taming of the Shrew

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.

the taming of the shrew, chicago shakespeare 2010

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.

the taming of the shrew, chicago shakespeare 2010

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).

the taming of the shrew, chicago shakespeare 2010

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).

the taming of the shrew, chicago shakespeare 2010

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.

Not Recommended

Beverly Friend

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.,, 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.

4 thoughts on “Taming of the Shrew

  • Fran Paquil

    Please get intellegent writers to review your plays. There are many things right and wrong with this current staging of the play. Please employ critics and writers on this website who have an understanding of the plays they are seeing. If you actually read the play Taming of the Shrew without interpretation you will see no real evidence of love in their relationship. There is certainly room to interpret that there may be, but to base all versions of this play based on a not very good film version with Burton and Taylor borders on the rediculous. This is in reality, a nigh impossible play to sell to any modern audience. It is a “taming play”. Women used to be paraded in the streets with a bridle on if they were deemed “shrewish” or “a scold”. Petruchio starves and sleep deprives his wife to get her to obey him and rid her of any idividuality. That is what the play is about. It is still Shakespeare, still intellegent and there is no doubt that Kate is an intellegent, strong woman. Still the play is what it is. The director and frame writer help interpret what they want us to see. Review that! Do not review preconcieved notions based on a fantasy of what this play is in the reviewers mind. Have your critics review the actual play they saw, and only if they understand the base material.

  • Beverly Friend

    There is truly no point in castigating the intelligence of a reviewer who has an opinion that differs from yours. I have a Ph.D. in English and am a retired college professor who has read – and taught – Shakespeare many times. While I can certainly see the case you are making, I still believe that sexual tension (reflecting the possibility of ultimate love) is a great part of the play – and in this version, it was lacking. For me, rather than being misogynistic, the play is a satire on male behavior and gender roles. It is, after all, a comedy, and an ironic one at that. Looked at in this light, Kate and Petruchio are very well matched and her finial speech is sarcastic and not meant to be taken as submission. Now, as to this production, I thought the frame interfered with the original tale. For me, it would have made a fine, separate play with “Taming of the Shrew” in the background rather than the foreground. In “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” “Hamlet” is sublimated. Here, too, that could happen in a new play based on the relationship between Angela and the Director, with snippets from Shakespeare rather than the other way around.

    I plan to attend the Northwestern lectures to see what they say – and you might enjoy that, too. In addition, Oakton Community College will be offering a 5-week class in THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES with the following agenda. (Fees are $15 per class or $60 for the series. Call 847-635-1414 for further information.)

    Do attend – and we can continue our dialogue in person.

    Monday, August 2 9:30 to 11 a.m.
    COMMUNICATION TO PROCREATION? I will be speaking on gender communication, with emphasis on John Gay’s “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”

    Monday, August 9 morning: 9:30-12:30 a.m.
    TAMING OF THE SHREW (part one) Tricia Kessie will explore a modern update of Shakespeare’s this play where a hilarious character twists a plot that involves the Houses of Parliament.

    Monday, August 9 afternoon: 1:30-3:30 pm
    THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (part 2) ,
    Tricia Kessie screens the classic 1967 film in which Franco Zeffirelli directs his famously feuding stars,

    Monday, August 16 9:30 am-12:30 pm
    Herbert Grinell considers Cole Porter’s farcical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

    Monday, August 23
    ADAMS RIB REVISITED 9:30 am-12:30 pm
    I will screen “Adams Rib” (1949), in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy throw comedic sparks as married lawyers on opposite sides of a high-profile case.

    Monday, August 30 9:30 am-12:30 pm
    KRAMER VS. KRAMER Following the film, celebrated divorce lawyer and child advocate Ralla Klepak, JD will discuss the film’s legal issues


  • thanks beverly friend for helping me out with a school project!

  • How’s this for an intellegent review. This play stunk! Paid good money and left after the first act. Not every “work of art” needs to be a political statment these days, does it?

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