Taming of the Shrew, San Diego

Taming of the Shrew, San Diego

The Taming of the Shrew

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Ron Daniels
Lowell Davies Festival Theatre
Old Globe, San Diego
June 16 – September 26, 2010

Emily Swallow and Jonno Roberts in the Old Globe production of “The Taming of the Shrew”
Photo courtesy of the Old Globe

From the moment you enter the theater for the Old Globe’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” you get the feeling this is going to be a really fun ride. First, there is the neon sign announcing the name of the play, with the “W” askew for good measure. Next, you notice theatergoers being seated on the outskirts of the stage. Cast members come out to banter with the lighting crew and each other. In the very rear of the stage, a man in large shoes woodenly chases a woman, his arms outstretched like Frankenstein. Everyone is having a fantastic time, and it’s 10 minutes before the show event starts.

It only gets better. The merchant Baptista (Adrian Sparks) has two daughters—demur Bianca (Bree Welch) and his eldest, sharp-tongued Katherine (Emily Swallow). Naturally, the eligible gentlemen of Padua are only interested in Bianca, but Baptista has rules. Bianca cannot wed before Katherine. Bianca’s various suitors despair, until Petruchio (Jonno Roberts) appears. Unfazed by Katherine’s reputation, Petruchio boldly pledges to subdue and marry her.

“Shrew” rises or falls on the interplay between Katherine and Petruchio, and Swallow and Roberts do not disappoint. Swallow’s Katherine has a subdued rage that terrifies all but Petruchio, while Robert’s Petruchio parries Katherine’s anger with his own sly arrogance. “Taming” Katherine requires drastic, some might say torturous, methods. However, it’s worth noting that the production tempers some of the more problematic (i.e., misogynistic) interchanges and the subdued shrew comes off as more of an equal than a subordinate.

Meanwhile, Bianca must also be won. Lucentio (Jay Whittaker) devises a plot in which he becomes the young lady’s tutor, while his servant Tranio (Michael Stewart Allen) masquerades as him. Whittaker portrays Lucentio with a doltish charm, but Allen is excellent at caricaturing his lord.

Throughout the show, the informal style adds to the fun. A lord throws his cane to his servant and when the servant drops it, gives him a playful stink eye; a horse-like contraption makes several appearances; a gaggle of servants lament the broken “W.” Ron Daniels’ direction is spot-on and the costumes (Deirdre Clancy) range from appropriate to spunky. Go see it. Big fun.

Joshua Baxt