According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Taming of the Shrew

Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies, “The Taming of the Shrew” relies on the pairings of so-wrong-they’re-right couples and a web of mistaken identity. The Roundtable Ensemble ups the confusion, but also the laughs in its small-cast, 90-minute version of "The Taming of the Shrew,” now playing at the American Theatre of Actors.

Left to right: JONATHAN KELLS PHILLIPS, TOM BUTLER, ARTHUR AULISI (in pink dress in background), and PAUL WHITTHORNE in The Roundtable Ensemble production of "The Taming of the Shrew," directed by Andrew Grosso. Photo credit: JIM BALDASSARE

(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.

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