By Jordan Wright (Photo/Scott Suchman)
A curious production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is currently showing at The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. I say curious, because it doesn’t have a real identity — unless you want to call this classic play a gender-bending musical with anti-feminist leanings. In another words, it’s all over the place in terms of direction and cast.
Tapping into Shakespeare’s use of an all-male cast, director Ed Sylvanus Iskander instead has given us an ersatz drag show — I’ve seen far better — per- formed by an oddly uneven cast.
The only thing worth holding your breath for is Tony Award-winning Jason Sherwood’s heart-stopping, gold gilded, rotating set, Seth Reiser’s intricate lighting design and Duncan Sheik’s rock music score with a catchy backbeat. But trust me, you will never hear a cast recording of Sheik’s terrific music, since the all-male voices were gravelly, garbled or, far too often, off-key.
Before I enumerate the plethora of disasters this dismal interpretation holds in store for lovers of the Bard of Avon, I must give credit to the two performers who, despite all discombobulations, kept this three- hour snooze fest from becoming even more intolerable.
Peter Gadiot’s portrayal of Petruchio is a marvel of timing, delivery and believability. Blessedly, he became the glue that held the plot, such as it is, together. And Andre De Shields exudes the classical training and timing of a true actor’s actor, most especially in a hilarious death scene.
Modern day renditions of this comedy are more likely to have the tongue firmly planted in the cheek when it comes to interpreting Petruchio’s male dominance and Kate’s subservience. Nowadays the misogynistic elements are firmly tamped down and contemporary stagings present it as a light-hearted romp with Kate’s willfulness interpreted as her independent feminist spirit.
But here Iskander offers up Kate as a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, subjugating herself and willing the other ladies of her acquaintance to follow her lead, resulting in them genuflecting side by side in the finale with palms upraised to God, giving themselves over to the demands of the men to be good, obedient wives. I felt as though I’d been hurtled backwards into a time warp before women had the vote.
Under Iskander’s direction, Loren Shaw’s costumes veer wildly from classical robes to modern street wear, dressing Bianca in a pink 1950s chiffon frock, the male roles in exaggerated codpieces and Hortensio sporting silver sequined high heels after a make-out session with one of the women’s suitors. What’s the point?
Ask the paparazzi that appear on stage to snap photos of Bianca acting like Madonna. Maybe they can explain. Let’s just move on, shall we? Unless you need an explanation for Lucentio in a 1970s pimp costume, or a reason for Petruchio’s antlers.