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STAGE REVIEW

The Taming of the Shrew

Taming or Shaming?

By Amy Meadows

Written by William Shakespeare

Adapted and directed by Michael Ouellette

Set design by William Fregosi

Costumes by Leslie Cocuzzo-Held

With Kortney Adams, Sean Austin, Marketa Valterova, Thomas Cork, Fernando Padilla, Debbie Lui, Brian Keller, Rachel Kline, Kay Sullivan

November 4, 5, 6 at 8pm in Kresge Little Theatre

More information and tickets available at 253-2903 or ensemble-tickets@mit.edu

The Shakespeare Ensemble’s production of The Taming of the Shrew is so incisive because it provides a perspective on the play that goes beyond one’s preconceptions.

This comedy centers around the marriages of two sisters: Bianca, considered to be the example of beauty and obedience, and Katarina, the “shrew” for whom the play is named. Bianca, the younger sister, cannot marry until a husband is found for Katarina. Of course, Katarina’s reputation as “Kate the cursed” renders this no small feat. Thus, the suitors of Bianca (Lucentio and Hortensio) find someone to “tame” Katarina: Petruccio. This sets the stage for many different interpretations of the play: is it taming or is it shaming?

Opening at the wedding banquet for Bianca, the play diverges into two perspectives. One is that of Bianca, the other is that of Lucentio, Bianca’s husband. These two perspectives are precisely what gives the play its essence. Bianca sees the events that went into Katarina’s marriage as a tragedy that has befallen her sister and robbed her of her identity, whereas Lucentio perceives the taming of Kate as a beneficial and almost necessary thing. Each of the perspectives looks at the same events: the courtship of both sisters, and the marriage of Kate and her subsequent domestication -- from different points of view, female and male.

However, the views themselves are not quite as amazing as the effect that is produced by them. Simply causing the audience to realize that there is more than one perspective on the taming is enormously important; other perspectives stimulate the viewers to think about their own frameworks and perceptions of events in the play.

The players bring a significant amount to the play, almost playing dual roles. Kortney Adams, in the role of Katarina, brings a certain savvyness to her portrayal. Instead of ambivalence to being tamed or shamed, she has an appropriate level of wit and sarcasm that is maintained in both acts of the play.

As Petruccio, Sean Austin has to be extremely versatile in his role as the tamer. In one act, he must incense the audience to anger, while in the other, he must move them to laugh at his situation. He does both convincingly and with equal force. In one role, he presents himself as being perfectly evil, whereas in the other role he portrays the character as happily egotistical and ambitious, but certainly not evil.

Thomas Cork, who plays Lucentio, and Marketa Valterova, who plays Bianca, both work well with their material. In their roles as budding suitors they seem to perfectly mirror the chasm between males and females that is so present in the play as a whole.

The dual roles concept is not an easy one to perform. Fernando Padilla, who played Hortensio, said that the play itself tamed him “as an actor.”

Although the ensemble players perform their roles very well, given the challenges of essentially performing in two disparate plays, there still seems to be some tension in the cast during various parts of the play. By tension I mean that the roles were separately acted and did not seem to quite fit together for a time. This might be due to the sheer intensity of the subject matter, but there appears to be some overriding uncomfortable feeling in the play. However, after several scenes the characters begin to flow more evenly together and the initial tension is overcome.

The Shakespeare Ensemble’s production of The Taming of the Shrew provides a perspective that might not be seen by just reading it, or even from seeing a more traditional version of the play. Although it is difficult, and sometimes strained it is nicely executed.