In Lantern Theater Company’s shrewd production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, director Charles McMahon equates the hot-blooded battle of wills between Kate and Petruchio with the intense, sensual, and stylized dance of the tango. It’s a metaphor that works conceptually, visually, and structurally for Shakespeare’s skewering of the less-than-enlightened historical conventions of marriage that drives the comedy.
McMahon plays with Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play format, beginning with a clever twist on the Bard’s often deleted device of the Induction. That integral prologue sets the stage for the bad behavior, disguised identities, reverse psychology, and riotous buffoonery that follow, as the lord who finds the drunken tinker Christopher Sly convinces him that he is a nobleman, a pageboy dressed in woman’s clothing is his wife, and the play we’re about to see is being performed for the confused man’s pleasure.
There is not a single misstep in the Lantern’s smart and hilarious dance-infused vision. Lance Kniskern’s multi-level set design captures the beauty of historic Padua, while its six doors and three shuttered windows support McMahon’s witty allusions to the theatrical genre of the door-slammer farce. Mark Mariani’s costumes thrust us into the 1930s—the era of both the tango and the screwball comedy that inform the production–and an outstanding ensemble of nine, all cast in multiple roles, delivers the fast-paced dialogue and physical comedy with non-stop laughs and a true understanding of Shakespeare’s farcical situations, ridiculous characters, and ironic words.
Among the servants and suitors, Dave Johnson (Grumio), David Bardeen (Gremio), Bradley Wrenn (Tranio), and Matt Tallman (Hortensio) offer sidesplitting portrayals of Shakespeare’s male logger-heads, rascals, and knaves. K.O. DelMarcelle (who also served as the show’s choreographer) is deceptively sweet and deferential as Kate’s younger sister Bianca, until she isn’t; Ahren Potratz (Lucentio) is aptly scholarly and smitten, cunning in his impersonation of a tutor but pure in his love for her; and Nathan Foley (Baptista) is risible as the wealthy patriarch who negotiates his daughters’ betrothals to the highest bidders, while remaining blind to everyone’s true nature.
Sparks fly between J Hernandez and Joanna Liao in the lead roles of Petruchio and Kate, who’ve met their match in each other. Their volatile relationship goes well beyond the economics of an arranged marriage, as they bring humor, fire, and nuance to the combative pair. DelMarcelle’s provocative choreography questions the socio-cultural commonplace that the man is always meant to lead and the woman to follow, with Kate tenaciously reversing the roles in the couple’s evolving dance. Is Kate’s final submission to her husband sincere, or is it satirical? Would a man of any era—Elizabethan or modern–ever truly prefer forced obedience to real love and passion, or a feigned persona to a genuine partner? McMahon’s perceptive interpretation fully embraces the parody, not the misogynist ideal, of a docile wife pretending to be someone she’s not, no more authentic than a pageboy in a lady’s dress, in a marriage with strictures as formulaic as the structure of a tango. [St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th & Ludlow Sts.] March 19-May 3, 2015; www.lanterntheater.org.