(Chosen as one of The New Theater Corps'
FIVE FAVORITES for 2/2/07)
Reviewed by Ellen Wernecke
The actors putting on this “Shrew” are variety players in a USO show who pass the time backstage playing cards and annoying each other with their warm-ups until a drunk (Arthur Aulisi) stumbles in. They throw him in a robe, start calling him “Lord” and plant him in the front row of the audience for the duration – or at least until he makes his own stage debut in the final act. Complicit in the duplicity, the audience is roped along into the show, with six actors tackling 23 parts (with the help of identifying props and accents).
It makes sense that for the play-within-a-play to work, there has to be some doubling. And the double casting sets up some interesting juxtapositions: If the same actor (in this case Alex Smith) plays Bianca’s father Baptista and her eventually successful suitor, Lucentio, then her eventual choice of him is both natural – after all, it’s a type she knows and of which he must approve – and slightly alarming, in its confirmation of Baptista’s power over her. (She couldn’t have made it work with the suitor Gremio, whose part actress Autumn Dornfeld takes with a pair of thick glasses and an old man’s affect.)
But the most surprising change about the Roundtable’s adaptation is the male player who takes the role of Katarina – or is forced into it, having assigned all the other parts. Once we’ve gotten over actor Paul Whitthorne’s mustache and his player’s disdain for the role, it presents us with a series of questions about the shrew’s own nature. Having seen her state, why does Petruchio (the swaggering Tom Butler) continue to pursue her? Is “shrewish” just a synonym for “too much like a man?” (Whitthorne drapes himself with a blue checked apron but makes no pretense of raising his voice to play her, foregrounding the difference.)
And it changes the titular taming: With a man in Katarina’s shoes, the struggle between her and Petruchio takes on an erotic subtext which was present in the original play when all the parts were played by men, but which our modern castings have allowed us to forget. Instead of being physically overpowered by him, the implication is that she chooses to submit. There is no pretense at unending love here: Katarina’s final speech to her fellow wives seems like a performance, rather than a lecture, and is thus easier to swallow.
In the interest of time, much of Bianca’s own courting is cut out, though B. Brian Argotsinger as Tranio, Lucentio's loyal servant who disguises himself as a suitor, stands out. But the play ends on an unresolved chord, despite the double wedding; we’re left pondering Butler’s rendition of “You Belong To Me” and wondering how much truth there is in it for Baptista’s daughters.
Roundtable Ensemble presents The Taming of the Shrew
American Theater of Actors, Chernuchin Theatre (314 West 54th Street)
Tickets (212-696-6699): $18/ $15 students (via Theatermania)
Performances: Wed, Fri, Sun @ 8pm; Sat @ 3pm
For more information, visit the Roundtable's Website.