The Taming Of The Shrew, by William Shakespeare; directed by Roger Hendricks Simon; scenery by Ursula Belden; costumes by B. Allen Odom; music by Lori Laifman; lighting by Hugh Lester.
With John Neville-Andrews, Ellen Newman, Ricki G. Ravitts, Earle Edgerton, John Gilliss, Floyd King, Chet Doherty, Leonardo Cimino, Count Stovall, David Cromwell, Jim Beard, Brian Kale, Wendy Hammond, Stuart Lerch, Brian Corrigan and Anne Stone.
At the Folger Theatre through May 25.
Undaunted by the errant swordsmanship of the past, the actors of the Folger Theatre Group are still working closely with their audience -- sitting among them, brushing by them and generally inviting them to feel a part of the business onstage.
At a performance of "Richard II" last season, two members of the public were evidently struck by a rampaging sword, and gave a quantity of their blood to the cause of audience involvement. No one was injured at last night's performance, except perhaps, "The Taming of the Shrew."
The Folger has mounted. The Taming of the Shrew" as a lively, lusty, rambunctious production -- and that's as it should be. But director Roger Hendricks Simon as a penchant for seems particulrly misapplied to this play and worse, seems to have begun indulged at the expense of the emotional texture of the performance.
"The taming of the Shrew" is, after all, a play-within-a-play, so when Simon starts dispatching his actors around to the far corners of the auditorium, he is mixing them up not only with the audience but also with the other actors who are supposed to be an audience-apart-from-the-audience. It gets confusing and distracting.
Such peripheral matters would be, in fact, peripheral if this "Taming of the Shrew" were stronger at the core. But the Relationship that must drive this play like the mainspring of a watch is not, as performed here, quite up to the task. The title makes plain just where the play's chief interest is to be found -- in bold Petruchio's wooing of Kate, the stormy, irksome "prettiest Kate in simply not enough there. Not here.
That's true, to start with, literally. Tall and lean Ellen Newman, as Kate, defies the casting convention that she should cut a physically formidable figure. And such rebelliousness of spirit as she portrays in the intial scenes evaporates far too quickly. Even before the first act has ended, we feel that Kate is throughly tamed.
It could be that Newman and director Simon, from some misguided desire to give the play a women's lib slant, have decided that Kate had Petruchio's number from the start, that she sees right through his scheming and has just as many schemes up her sleeve. Of course, that is an element of her character, but it shouldn't be the only or the dominant element.
John Neville-Andrews, on the other hand, makes a very funny, boisterous, ignorant lout of a Petruchio, and he is by no means the only member of the company to get fair mileage from his part.
From Floyd King as Christopher Sly (the drunken derelict for whom the whole entertainment is performed) to Leonardo Cimino as Gremio (the oldest and feeblest suitor to Katherina's younger sister, Bianca), the bunglers and clowns are expecially well-played. Cimino, who has the remarkable ability to cut a noble figure in one role and a ridiculous figure in the next, has a moment of truly wonderful rediculousness here when he gets stuck in the middle of an over-elaborate how. A pratfreeze, you might say.
And John Gilliss and Ricki G. Ravitts are satisfactory and then some as Lucentio and Bianca, the sweet-tongued couple barred from marrying unless Bianca's older sister, the impossible Kate, weds first.
The energy in this highly energetic production may be too desperate and uncontrolled at times. But whatever its sloppinesses, the Folger's "Taming of the Shrew" offers an able and colorful group of actors in a richly entertaining play.
That is a rarity, and not to be sneezed at.