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The vivacious version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, performed Friday night and Sunday afternoon in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, NC, is Shakespeare—and the High Point-based North Carolina Shakespeare Festival—at its finest. Imaginatively staged by director John Woodson, provocatively performed by a stellar cast shining like supernovas, and beautifully designed by Joe Gardner (sets), Laura Simcox (costumes), and Todd Wren (lights), this magnificent NCSF production is not only a Shrew for the ages, but also the best argument for the timelessness of the Bard of Avon’s vivid characters and provocative plots.
The Taming of the Shrew is more than just an epic battle of the sexes between a swaggering, bawdy, bellicose, money-grubbing bridegroom—Petruchio of Verona (Daniel Murray)—and his notoriously ill-tempered redheaded hellcat of a bride—Katherina of Padua (Monica Bell)—whose sizable dowry (and not her fierce beauty) is initially Petruchio’s principal inducement to take the foul-tempered older daughter of wealthy merchant Baptista Minola (Allan Edwards) for his wife. Shrew is also a caustic commentary on the materialistic rituals of courtship and marriage that endure to this very day.
Murray and Bell have a grand time creating feisty, hot-blooded characterizations of the legendary male chauvinist pig Petruchio and the equally legendary hellcat Kate and bringing these larger-than-life characters to full, glorious life. Friday night, Bell and Murray strutted and fretted—as Kate and Petruchio quarreled and brawled and, ultimately, fell in love—for two and a half glorious hours—much to the delight of a most appreciative audience, many of whom leaped to their feet at the final curtain.
Handsome and slim, but displaying six-pack abs in the wacky wedding scene in which Petruchio arrives not just in rags but bare-chested, Daniel Murray brought great gusto and admirable panache the proceedings; and Monica Bell as Kate provided the perfect foil for all of Petruchio’s crude comments, verbally counter-punching with brio and frequently charging—claws extended—into the fray.
Jennifer Lee Jellicorse gave a compelling characterization as the beautiful and charming but headstrong Bianca, Kate’s much-sought-after younger sister and all-too-obviously the apple of their father’s eye. Michael Zlabinger, who played Romeo to Jellicorse’s Juliet, in the robust NCSF rendition of Romeo and Juliet performed Thursday and Saturday nights, contributed a crowd-pleasing portrayal of Lucentio, the university student from Pisa who pretends to be a tutor so that he can have access to the cloistered Bianca.
Todd Scofield was likewise amusing as Lucentio’s upstart servant Tranio, who had to assume his master’s identity in order for Lucentio’s masquerade to succeed in gaining him access to the Minola household and intimate access to the finest flower of that distinguished name. Patrick Tansor was amusing as Bianca’s prissy uppercrust suitor Hortensio, but Graham Smith employed a seemingly infinite assortment of funny facial expressions, comic mannerisms, tics, and twitches to steal the show as Gremio, an indefatigable wealthy but superannuated suitor for fair Bianca’s hand. Director John Woodson apparently gave Smith a license to steal, and Smith gleefully walked away with every scene in which he appeared, just as he did when he played the cantankerous Lord Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.
Also generating gales of laughter were crisp comic characterizations by Lesley Hunt as the wealthy widow who finally inserts her ring in Hortensio’s nose; Lucius Houghton as Petruchio’s long-suffering servant Grumio; Tim Austin as a Pedant from Mantua whom Tranio enlists to play Lucentio’s father; and John Woodson as the rightful Vincentio, Lucentio’s highly indignant real father who unexpectedly arrives in Padua to find his servant impersonating his son and a complete stranger pretending to be himself.
Director John Woodson enlivens the proceedings—and makes this superlative production of The Taming of the Shrew truly unforgettable—by inserting anachronistic bits of song (some played on accordion by Bradley Smith and guitar by Lucius Houghton), snippets of dialogue from the Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate based on Shrew, and other inspired bits of whimsy. Scenic advisor Joe Gardner’s versatile multilevel set, costume designer Laura Simcox’s flamboyant Renaissance fashions, and lighting designer Todd Wren’s artful illumination of the action also help this merry masterpiece by arguably the world’s greatest dramatist woo—and win—a new audience of Triangle theatergoers.
N.C. Shakespeare Festival: http://www.ncshakes.org/, http://www.ncshakes.org/asyoulikeit.cfm [inactive 5/07] (The Taming of the Shrew). NCSF MainStage Study Guide: http://ncshakes.org/MSStudyGuides2006.pdf [inactive 6/07] and GlobeWorks Study Guide (for school groups): http://ncshakes.org/GWStudyGuide2006.pdf [inactive 6/07]. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy University of Virginia): http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. The Taming of the Shrew (e-text courtesy UVa): http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaTamF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobTami.html (1866 Globe Edition).