The Taming of the Shrew
It’s a wild ride through the Wild West, as The Folger Shakespeare Theatre takes "The Taming of the Shrew" from its typical setting in Padua, Italy to a Western saloon in the 1880’s, where the swashbuckling bandit named Petrucchio manages to use outlandish methods to woo the chaps-wearing, gun-toting Katherine.
The set by Tony Cisek uses the basic, double-doored Western saloon, with its wagon-wheel-and-elk-horn chandelier, to create some hilarious entrances, exits, and chase scenes. Helen Q. Huang’s western costumes allow Kate to dress like a man, while her busty sister Bianca can show off her curves in a wide-skirted country frock.
The bearded, fierce Petrucchio (Cody Nickell) has something undeniably charming about him, and Katherine (Kate Eastwood Norris) can’t help but seem a tad amused even when he arrives in a wild costume to their wedding, smacks the priest, carries her out of the reception over his shoulder, and forces her to ride a half-dead horse on the way home. Maybe that’s because these "two raging fires" at the center of the play have more than their fair share of chemistry.
The scene opens with a far less whimsical Katherine Minola drinking shots of whiskey in a near-empty saloon. She clearly does not take the glee at being shrewish that Elizabeth Taylor once put into the role in the movie. Instead, Norris plays her with a palpable pathos, showing that her wildness is a cover for deeper conflicts and profound loneliness.
The Folger, known for more traditional adaptations of the Bard’s words, not only changes the setting of the play, but also crosses gender barriers by making Katherine’s father Baptista her mother, and choosing to have Lucentio’s servant Tranio become a woman (and a tranny, when she goes in drag to impersonate her master.)
Despite the changes, director Aaron Posner keeps the dialogue fairly faithful to the original text, and the play includes the often-problematic final soliloquy that is frequently omitted.
The gender-bending roles show that the frontier setting has toughened the women who inhabit it. As the tough-talking matriarch Baptista, Sarah Marshall is a very strong physical comedian, and her reactions to the chaos that surround her daughter are hysterical.
Meanwhile, Holly Twyford’s Tranio shows powerful mixed emotions as she helps her handsome master Lucentio (Thomas Keegan) woo Kate’s busty sister Bianca, but clearly shows that underneath the mustache and checkered three-piece suit she dons to impersonate him, she has secret romantic yearnings for her boss.
Meanwhile, the play adds an entirely new character in Cliff Eberhardt’s blind piano player, who serves as an arch narrator of sorts, singing interludes between sections of the story.
"The Taming of the Shrew" runs through June 10 at Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol Street, SE. For tickets or information, call 202-544-7077 or visit folger.edu