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A less than tamed 'Shrew' at STC

Maulik Pancholy (Kate) in Taming of the Shrew
(photo courtesy of Shakespeare Theater Company)
In the last few years, local theaters have staged Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew several times. In the fall of 2009, the Shakespeare Theater Company mounted its take on this man-vs-woman “comedy” for its annual “Free for All” production. In 2012 the Folger Shakespeare Library produced a well-received “western” version of this often disagreeable text, winning the 2013 Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Resident Play. Now the Shakespeare Theater Company has a new staging. One might go into the production asking, Why choose this vexing play again?

Upon entering the lobby of Sidney Harman Hall, it became clear that the artistic team sought to bring Shakespearean conventions to the forefront of not only the play, but the entire theater. With the all-male cast wandering the lobby, playing music and conversing with audience members, director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar has succeeded to some extent in creating something like Padua, where the play takes place. As the houselights dim the cast all take part in an opening song providing vocals with live instrumental music on stage. Once the opening number ended, though, the productions lost its focus.

The world of the play is visually glamorous. The inconsistencies, namely in costume design, make it hard for the reality of the play to set in. The scenic designer (Jason Sherwood) offers a clever golden tower on a rotating stage, which allows for simple, seamless transitions and provides choreographer Chase Brock a lovely playground. The actors follow suit with well-paced scene work that allows the many sub-plots to be woven into one grand story.

Sadly, the actors' hard work is squandered on the attempt to make this play a musical. Perhaps seeking out a unique voice to tackle the problems provided by the play, Iskandar, composer Duncan Sheik, and arranger David Dabbon create giant gaps between scenes and fill the gaps with music and lyrics that only warp the characters into something that goes against the original text. The two handfuls of original songs are full of contemporary, ambiguous lyrics somewhat reminiscent of Sheik's well-known original score for the Tony-award winning musical Spring Awakening. However, unlike Sheik’s Broadway hit, this production lacks any type of contextual unity binding the lyrics of the songs and the words of Shakespeare’s text, breaking up the otherwise successful scene-work.

Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘Shrew’: An all-male muddle (Washington Post, May 25)

Missy Frederick, Shakespeare Theatre Company's All-Male Shrew is Sincere and Stunning (DCist, May 25)
The fun and playful acting is the breath that drives this otherwise lacking production. The quick-paced verse works nicely and is showcased best by the “Shrew” Katherine (Maulik Pancholy) and the “Tamer” Petruchio (Peter Gadiot). When the music and repetitive choreography are stripped away, the production is left with the original text. This is when the play is fun but also extremely powerful and Pancholy displays a masterful understanding of the character Katherine. The sharp-tongued character is easy for Pancholy but so also are the moments of vulnerability which allows this production to keeps its head just above water.

The Taming of the Shrew runs 3 hours and 5 minutes including a 30-minute “intermezzo.” The production continues through until June 26 at the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Sidney Harman Hall.

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