Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and distinguishing the cleverness of his writing from the skill of the actors communicating it can be difficult. Kennedy Theatre’s take on “Taming of the Shrew,” directed by Kimberly Shire, does justice to the Bard’s comedy. Though shortened, this version of the play is funny, maintains primary plot lines and successfully puts its own spin on the classic tale.
A MODERN TAKE
One of the most notable traits of Kennedy’s “Taming of the Shrew” is that the setting is not that of Elizabethan England, but more of a blank slate with a modern feel. However, the play does not need a fancy set in order to thrive. The actors make good use of what they have, and tastefully incorporate modern objects like cell phones into the play. Lucentio (Zachary Rhys Loscalzo) and Bianca (Bronte Amoy) taking selfies while kissing was definitely a highlight of the show. Dialogue never seemed to deviate from the original Shakespeare beyond the sections that were shortened for time purposes. Modern music was also incorporated in certain scenes and while changing sets; actors also did brief dance routines during scene changes, which was entertaining and not overbearing.
Many of the male characters in the show came across as “bros,” which, while perhaps not exactly what Shakespeare imagined, is a great interpretation of the roles. All of the male characters that were friends with each other acted like stereotypical frat boys by plotting to pick up chicks and fist bumping. Petruchio (Timothy Callais), in particular, embodied the bro. This twist made the play more accessible to a modern audience and allowed for easier interpretation of the lines.
“Taming of the Shrew” is often noted for its portrayal of gender roles. Katharina (Kyle Scholl) is the wild woman who is eventually tamed by the patient and dominant Petruchio, but the taming is okay because they wind up loving each other in the end. Because the play was shortened, some of the character development is unfortunately rushed, but audience members unfamiliar with the play will still understand the progression. Scholl plays a spirited shrew, and I interpreted her portrayal as one in which Katarina does not fully submit to her husband in the end, but still maintains some of her spunk, while also acknowledging that one must concede in some instances for the sake of marital bliss. I thought that Scholl and Callais had excellent chemistry, and their dynamic as a couple was a superb foil to Loscalzo and Amoy’s more traditional romantic pairing. T
he wide range of characters in the play portrayed a number of different interpretations of gender roles, which has the potential to start conversations about Shakespeare’s intentions, Shire’s intentions and the role of gender in both Elizabethan England and modern society.
Minor Flaws and Final Comments
I found few faults in Kennedy’s “Taming of the Shrew,” but they did exist. First, while condensing the play made it more palatable to modern audiences with arguably short attention spans, the abbreviation did make things feel hurried. I think the show would still be entertaining if it were 15 to 30 minutes longer, and fewer nuances would have been lost. Although the costume designers were mostly successful, some of the outfits were so colorful that they bordered tacky. Also, while most of the actors played off of each other quite well, the relationship between Bianca and Baptista (Nathaniel Niemi), her father, was a little too intimate; I initially found myself confused, as his hugs and forehead kisses made him appear more like her lover than her parent.
However, beyond these imperfections, “Taming of the Shrew” was a satisfying production. The tricky Shakespearian dialogue was effectively delivered and the actors’ body language clarified ambiguous lines. There were multiple laugh-out-loud instances, and it was apparent that the actors were having just as much fun as the audience. The modern attributes of the play were successfully implemented, and gender role portrayals were stark enough to generate conversation. “Taming of the Shrew” is definitely a play you want to see.