Matt Pfeiffer is a gifted director who has a lot of ideas when it comes to staging comedy, particularly comedy that offers a cast the license to be physical. In The Taming of the Shrew, as in Pfeiffer’s production of The 39 Steps at Theatre Horizon, the director has to learn when half is enough and to edit some of his creativity.
Every now and then, and more often now than then, Pfeiffer’s production of SHREW screamed of antics. These were well played by a deft and agile cast, but they often got in the way of an otherwise light but telling rendition of Shakespeare’s play led by Ian Merrill Peakes as Petruchio and Eleanor Handley as Katherine. Like Pfeiffer’s production, both are fine and move SHREW along entertainingly.
This is a good production that benefits most when it puts farce aside and concentrates on the business of two people, but particularly Petruchio, using their will to create partnership and harmony in place of the petty tyrannies that characterize most marriages. Peakes and Handley are best when they are bedeviling each other, and the productions picks up steam when that happens.
Although because of fine work from the supporting cast, some scenes in Baptista Minola’s house and the streets surrounding it are quite good. Dan Hodge is particularly remarkable as Tranio, the servant to Lucentio that is enlisted to take his employer’s place when Lucentio goes into disguise as a music teacher to better and more immediately woo Katherine’s sister, Bianca, with whom he has become smitten on sight.
Hodge has none of the bumpkin in him. His Tranio takes on a tone that is superior, yet natural to the character and in no way self-consciously comic, to most of the learned gentry surrounding him in Shakespeare’s Padua. Hodge’s choices are especially felicitous because the breeding he conveys as Tranio playing Lucentio mirrors the sweetness and intelligence Brandon J. Pierce gives to Lucentio. With one addition:Pierce’s intelligence is youthful and sometimes impetuous and naïve. Hodge’s is seasoned and flourishing in reason and native common sense.
One point here: I have nothing against what is now called non-traditional casting, but when you have a script, even one by Shakespeare, which has a line that says two people resemble each other so closely, they can’t be told apart, e.g. Lucentio and Tranio, either cut the line that gives that information or don’t cast two actors, one black, one white, who can’t possibly live up to the textural advertising. No one had scruples about changing gender references or “father” to “mother” in casting Linda Thorson as Baptista Minola, written as a male character. Thorson, by the way, is a wonderful Minola, who conveys love and patience in tandem with frustration and exasperation. Read more on Neals Paper >>>
[Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley, PA] July 13-August 7, 2016; pashakespeare.org.