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A CurtainUp California Review
the Taming of theShrew
Old Globe Shrew
Scene from TheTaming of the Shrew at the Old Globe (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

Come, come, you wasp, i'faith you are too angry.— Petruchio
If I be waspish, best beware my sting.—Katherine
My remedy is then to pluck it out.— Petruchio
—Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.Katherine
Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail. —Petruchio
In his tongue.— Katherine
— Whose tongue? Petrucchio
Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell. — Katherine
What, with my tongue in your tail? — Petruchio;

The Taming of the Shrew is the Old Globe's third repertory production this summer, rounding out King Lear and The Madness of George III. We're all familiar with the basic story which has been staged as the musical Kiss Me Kate and movies like 10 Things I Hate About You. Katherine is a sharp-tongued, obdurate woman whose younger sister Bianca is desperate to marry, but at her father's insistence must wait until her older sister Katherine is married off. Enter smooth-talking rogue Petruchio, who marries Katherine and "tames" her through a series of psychological torments (like withholding food, sleep and sex), until she's as biddable and compliant as her giggly younger sister — who is now free to marry which she does promptly.

Yes, it's wildly misogynistic. But, also funny and one of Shakespeare's bawdier comedies. While there are plot holes you could drive a truck through, no one cares with all the raunchy jokes and pratfalls. It's a nice change of pace from the somber seriousness of King Lear and The Madness of George III.

Stylistically, this production is muddled. While ostensibly a period piece in the sense that the costumes and props are (mostly) sixteenth-century Elizabethan, there are several jarring touches, including a neon sign with The Taming of the Shrew blazoned across the stage. The male leads are all dressed like gaudy Renaissance pimps— one with designer sunglasses.— The male ensemble members all look like Gumby the Village Idiot from early Monty Python sketches. There are several strange dances involving the ensemble; also very long shticks and a couple of dumb shows involving a performer in a horse costume (with the horse character handily defecating onstage). Wink-wink slapstick comedy sustained Shakespeare's plebian audiences, so kudos to director Ron Daniels for at least upholding the play's brash comedic authenticity. While I appreciate the clever double-entredre wordplay, could have done without the fake horse poop, the shick dances and the neon sign.

Fortunately the actors know their stuff. With a lesser cast, this production might easily have devolved into a lot of sequined sound and fury, signifying nothing. This Petruchio and Katherine have a palpable chemistry together, and the cast overall is the most energetic of the three plays. Jonno Roberts as Petruchio is as happily charming and charismatic as you might expect; Emily Swallow's Katherine is strong and acerbic, almost too much so—her capitulation to Petruchio's charms seems forced, like she's waiting until they're alone offstage to kill him. I can't say that I'd blame her. But hey, it's not often we get to enjoy a strong Shakespearean female lead (or at least one that doesn't have to resort to cross-dressing somewhere in the play).

The Taming of the Shrew
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ron Daniels
With Michael Stewart Allen (Tranio), Shirine Babb (Widow), Donald Carrier (Hortensio), Craig Dudley (Tailor, Vincentio), Charles Janasz (Pedant, Curtis), Joseph Marcell (Gremio), Jordan McArthur (Biondello), Jonno Roberts (Petruchio), Adrian Sparks (Baptista Minola), Emily Swallow (Katherine), Bruce Turk (Grumio), Bree Welch (Bianca) and Jay Whittaker (Lucentio) with Andrew Dahl, Grayson DeJesus, Ben Diskant, Christian Durso, Kevin Hoffman, Andrew Hutcheson and Steven Marzolf (Ensemble)
Set Design: Ralph Funicello
Lighting Design: Alan Burrett
Sound Design: Christopher R. Walker
Costume Design: Deirdre Clancy
Original Music: Shaun Davey
Running Time: Two hours and fifty minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission
The Old Globe; 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego; 619-23-GLOBE
Tickets $29 - $78
Schedule varies
June 16 - September 26, 2010
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on July 11th performance
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