Taming a shrew in America's Wild West

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Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

All productions of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" capitalize on the play's comedy, emphasizing the spicy arguments between Petruchio and Katherine, the strong-headed woman he tries to woo and marry. In the current Folger Shakespeare Theatre production of "The Taming of the Shrew," those arguments are ratcheted up to the ultimate degree. The rapid verbal banter between Petruchio (Cody Nickell) and Katherine (Kate Eastwood Norris) is supplemented with plenty of low comedy, as the play's subplots are brought out and clarified in new and different ways.

Cleverly directed by Aaron Posner, this "Shrew" is set about 1880 in the American West, in a saloon (designed by Tony Cisek) where a long bar takes up the entire left side of the stage. On the right side of the stage, stairs lead up to a balcony. Near the stairs sits an essential element of this production: Cliff Eberhardt, who accompanies the action with his songs on piano and guitar.

As in every "Shrew," Katherine is ill-tempered and hard to control at the beginning of the play. It's not just a character element; it's a plot device. If she were of a different temper, it would be easy to marry her off as her mother wants to do, so she can then marry off her more malleable younger daughter, Bianca (Sarah Mollo-Christensen).

If you go
"The Taming of the Shrew"
Where: The Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE
When: Through June 10
Info: $30 to $65; 202-544-7077; folger.edu 

But this Katherine seems a remove beyond unhappy, almost existentially discontent. And that merely makes the turning point all the sweeter, when Petruchio teaches Kate what love feels like. After that palpable, visible moment, nothing is the same for Kate or Petruchio. They become partners.

Sarah Marshall is deliciously funny as Baptista, Kate's uncaring mother. Danny Scheie plays the outrageous Grumio, servant to Petruchio, as a transplant from the deep South. Scheie's great comic gifts serve him well in this role.

Holly Twyford's comedic talents also are well placed in the role of Tranio, servant to Lucentio (Thomas Keegan), a young suitor to Bianca. Keegan, Craig Wallace and Marcus Kyd are superb as rival suitors to Bianca.

The costumes, by Helen Q. Huang, are colorful tributes to the late 19th-century West.

There is a scene at the end of "The Taming of the Shrew" where Kate must state her submission and devotion to her husband. Many productions can't pull it off and drop certain lines. In the Folger production, nothing is lost. Kate happily celebrates her love for Petruchio in an avowal that is so honest and sincere it seems to surprise even Petruchio.

That is just one inspiring moment of many, where Posner imaginatively pulls together acting, talent, song and dance to create a rugged, credible, dynamic "Taming of the Shrew."

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Author:

Barbara Mackay

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner