SHAKESPEARE’S ZANY COMEDY OF THE SEXES IN CENTRAL PARK
No Miss Congeniality here – Bold New View of Timeless Tale
By Lori Simmons Zelenko
Our first look at this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park screwball take on men and women, love and freedom, TAMING OF THE SHREW, is not palatial – nothing sumptuous here.
Shabby awnings faded in the setting sun and tattered circus wagons frame the main ring. Carnival-barker style a familiar voice booms out (Could it be a pageant “king” now turned presidential candidate?) touting the beauty pageant that frames the action with good old fashioned smarmy sexism – and not without an undertone of political commentary. Tap-dancing beauty queens twirl batons, sing and flirt as they parade in skimpy costumes setting the stage for Shakespeare’s zany comedy of the sexes, The Taming of the Shrew directed by Tony nominated Phyllida Lloyd with an all-female cast and a daring new spin on this barbed, unexpectedly sparked quest for love and freedom.
The plot revolves around the lovely Bianca, the prize to be won by all the men looking to land themselves a wealthy wife. They arrive with cash-stuffed briefcases willing to pay plenty for this beauty. But to win Bianca, guess who’s got to be married off first? Her feisty, fiery older sister, Katherina, played by Olivier Award Nominee Cush Jumbo (Josephine and I, The River). Of course, she’s sassier and smarter than any beauty queen so odds are she may just outsmart them all. Petruchio, the wild outsider Katherina (played by Tony and Olivier winner Janet McTeer, A Doll’s House, Mary Stuart) must outwit shows us the lengths men will go to for their legacy, what women will do to break free and the outrageous things we all do for the human heart.
The Taming of the Shrew is essentially about freedom. The freedom to embrace your own values, your own personality, your own goals without sublimating to a spouse, social conventions or any governing figure – from a Pageant “king” to a parent. In this version Ms. Lloyd — the British director whose known not just for her fun woman-powered “Mamma Mia!” but also for the equally representative of strong women, the Broadway revival of “Mary Stuart” unleashes every woman to show us just how silly men can be.
Mark Thompson’s costumes let us see how women can be trivialized – dressing the “girls” in frilly baby doll dresses – and the men posing with such seriousness in muscle Ts or business suits that they become near caricatures of themselves – women posing as men at their most macho. All this adding to the humor and underlying desperation of the characters we can’t help but love despite their bad reputations in this rambunctious production.
Humiliating Katherina or Kate as we get to know her, is Petruchio’s game. Janet McTeer brings passion yes, but a manic edge to that passion, making us see Petruchio as a man who’s driven to sublimate others yet who sublimates his own possibly extreme personality quirks to be the man everyone expects him to be, a swaggering gent with a tally of conquests. You could even call him a desperado.
Cush Jumbo as our Kate (known for her appearances on “The Good Wife”) sears the soul. Her anger is palpable. Her rebellion deserved after constantly being subjected to men – most nowhere near as smart as she is – trying to control her as they dismiss her mind and in doing so increase her willfulness. She’s a woman who demands to be liberated but she’s also attracted to the very man who’s trying to keep her down even though in his heart of hearts he loves her spitfire personality.
So when it comes to her proclaiming her wifely duties, she’s not quite sure she’s ready to bail on who she really is. Freedom appeals at the end…and Kate not to mention the rest of the cast revels in the chance to be unchained, the opportunity to be released from convention and free to be everything their hearts desire.
The Taming of The Shrew is at The Delacorte Theatre in Central Park through June 26. Tickets are free. For details visit www.publictheater.org