The free outdoor Shakespeare Summer Festival production of "The Taming of the Shrew" that opened Saturday is done like a joint effort of the Old Vic and the DOyley Carte.
Stylistically, the production is not quite up to the best efforts of either company. But do not be put off by the seeming incongruity of these two ways to do things.
The performers lack elegance, it is true, but there is much to to be said for their lustiness. Luckily, the strongest performer is the person who has the strongest part, Petruchio, the tamer of the shrew, played with great elan by Tim 'O'Hare, a University of Maryland drama major who also happened to be last year's first-string quarterback.
O'Hare plans to be a Broadway pro rather than an NFL one. In some roles his lack of physical inhibition could become a problem, but as a 6-foot-3 man dealing with a 6-foot Kate, played by Coral Suter, he seems to the manner born.
Both of them, along with Donald F. Campbell as Gremio, give the beleaguered festival more than its money's worth in a 19th season at the Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument grounds. As Ellia Chamberlain, the festival's producer, explained, "We are lucky to have good people who are somewhere between the classroom" and the big-time stage.
The Shakespeare Festival almost did not make it at all this year, after the National Park Service cut about 75 percent of its planned budget.
The season, therefore, is drastically foreshortened, with its Sylvan Theater productions ending next Saturday. Likewise, its annual tours have been minimal. Chamberlain estimates that "The Taming of the Shrew" will cost between $15,000 and $20,000, and she is still trying to raise money.
Those frequenters in recent years may notice that the costumes are from last year's "A Comedy of Errors" and that the setting is from the previous year's "Romeo and Juliet." At least it's all in Italy, and the discrepancies were not troublesome to this viewer.
But on top of that, on Saturday as probably on all nights, the jets taking off from National rendered indistinguishable some of Shakespeare's best lines.
Roger Meersman has chosen to direct this male-chauvinist declaration as out-and-out farce. Sometimes the horseplay goes so far that you fear a bone will be broken by one of the hard-knocking players before the run is over. Meersman assures, however, that the hard knocks are more illusory than real.
And in these days of feminism, how else can you handle a work that is so utterly at odds with the sensitivities of our times? If the script is taken dourly, it might well - and this is no exaggeration - be hooted off the stage.