If Romeo and Juliet can be seen as Shakespeare’s commentary on the inherent impracticality of naive young love, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW is his statement on the practical necessities of mature companionship. Not the misogyny and subjugation of female will which modern critics look to and modern producers struggle with or seek to obfuscate, but the compromise, interplay, and transformative power of love on which director Carmen Khan focuses in her amusing staging for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.
In actor Jenna Kuerzi’s hands, the “shrew” Katharina is a punk-rock-style anger-filled woman, the sister of the more lovely Bianca (Julia Jensen Ray). When Aaron Kirkpatrick’s playfully charming Petruchio hears of her sass and verve, he vows to “tame” her. At Philly Shakes, their mutual attraction is immediate. Upon meeting Kate, Petruchio is no longer working to get her for the challenge, but because he sees her beauty and spirit; Kate is won not by his manipulations but by his attentions and regard. Allowing herself to love and be loved releases Kate from her anger.
Khan’s interpretation makes for a thoroughly accessible and contemporary TAMING. The chemistry between Kuerzi and Kirkpatrick is essential in realizing this vision. The obvious regard Kate and Petruchio have for one another frame their games—which in some other productions come across as necessary masculine cruelty—as romantic interplay. Kate’s much-derided speech in the denouement (“I am ashamed that women are so simple”) reads as personal thanks and commitment, not unreconstructed dribble, farce, or irony.
This love story takes place within a charming production, billed as following “original staging practices” which will “present the play as close as possible to how it appeared in Shakespeare’s time”. This is of course horseshit, but the minimal sets (Bethanie Wampol), contemporary costumes (Vicki Esposito), and unaltered lighting make for an uncluttered production (though there is no lack of props). If theaters need to find a philosophical grounding not to overlay random time periods or over-elaborate sets on Shakespeare, so be it.
In any case, our focus in Khan’s production rests on the play, to which she brings an intelligent interpretation and an amusing tone. Greg Giovanni and Deaon Griffin-Pressley entertain as Bianca’s would-be suitors. Joshua Kachnycz charms the audience as well as Bianca as Lucentio. Even in cruder hands, the interactions are intelligible and clear. With our interest established, the actors let the language work its magic.
[The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom Street] October 16-November 1, 2015; phillyshakespeare.org.